The Council voted unanimously to reject the appeal of chief appellant Gerald Nicosia and those who suggested that they didn’t believe that cafe owner Paul Lazzareschi’s renovation plans for his business, located within the City-owned building, reflected his actual intentions.
The appellants claimed that Lazzareschi would convert the cafe into a full-service restaurant and worried that his proposed reduction of the size of the bookstore by 18 percent would lead to its demise. They also said they were blindsided by the proposal, which Lazzareschi first put forward soon after he and partner Gary Rulli bought the business from the family of the late Mary Turnbull, who founded the famed bookstore and cafe with her husband William Turnbull in 1987. Turnbull died peacefully of natural causes on September 30, 2015.
“We fear the imminent loss of a valuable community resource,” Nicosia told the council. “The only point of our effort is to preserve something that the community greatly needs.”
“I get that you don’t believe me but I don’t know what else to say,” Lazzareschi, owner of the restaurant Vasco across the street from the Depot, said of his intentions and the appellants’ claims. As for the bookstore, “I get it, but over the past 10 years of records we can find, the bookstore has never profited a dime. A lot of people are really concerned about losing but nobody’s supporting it – everybody’s buying on Amazon. These changes allow us to move people through the cafe more quickly. We’re making it so that the cafe can be more viable so that it can carry that bookstore.”
Paula Reynold, co-director of the Mill Valley Chamber, addressed the appellants’ concerns that the proposed changes hadn’t been fully vetted, noting that the proposal dates back to mid-2016. “This is not new news. Our democracy doesn’t work when people wake up at the 11th hour after everyone else has put their heart and soul into a project and decides that there hasn’t been enough process.”
In issuing their unanimous decision, some councilmembers did ask Lazzareschi to consider limiting the square footage lost by the bookstore to the extent possible.
“I really think it’s important that we maintain the current size of the bookstore,” Councilmember Jessica Sloan said. “It’s symbolic. In 1974, the council voted to convert the bus station into a bookstore and cafe and since then it’s really operated as that. It is really a reflection of our values that we value literacy and that we value coming together around books.”
“We all really do hear you about how important and vital the Depot is as a community resource,” Mayor Stpehanie Moulton-Peters told the appellants. “But I think it’s still going to be a simple, welcoming, casual place. I really do.”
As part of the planned renovations, Lazzareschi has agreed to incorporate the City-funded construction of a new downtown public bathroom, a project that regularly discussed in 2014 and was fully budgeted in 2015 and conceptually dates back to 1984, when then-Mayor Richard “Dick” Jessup, who designed the Depot Plaza, first sketched out a downtown bathroom location.
The Planning Commission will rule on a proposed trellis on the Plaza-side of the building a future hearing.