SAN MATEO -- The city of San Mateo has dealt a major blow to 7-Eleven in a legal battle over a disputed market in the mostly residential San Mateo Heights neighborhood, officials said Friday.
San Mateo County Superior Court Judge George Miram denied a petition filed by the international convenience store chain and property owner Portfolio Development Partners to overturn the city's 2013 finding that the market on San Mateo Drive violates its zoning laws. Miram issued his ruling Tuesday, but it was not released until Friday.
San Mateo officials and neighbors who opposed the store hailed the decision, while lawyers for 7-Eleven and the property owner could not immediately be reached for comment on the outcome or whether they'll appeal.
"We worked very hard to follow the law and do what was right," said Councilman David Lim, "and so I'm gratified by the judge's decision."
7-Eleven opened the market in late 2012 after a city planner and fill-in deputy city attorney, in a questionable reading of the city's zoning codes, found that it was a legal nonconforming use of the property, which is zoned for multifamily homes.
The corner property had been vacant since 2010. Before that it had operated for decades as a deli and market, grandfathered in as a legal nonconforming use because it predated city zoning laws.
A group of neighbors objected, claiming the 18-month cessation in activity on the property meant it must revert to a conforming, or residential, use. The City Council ultimately agreed, overturning the staff decision in January 2013.
The petition by 7-Eleven and Portfolio Development Partners argued both that the council's decision was flawed and that, irrespective of the merits of that decision, the city should be barred from overturning the staff's initial finding, which led the plaintiffs to make a substantial investment in the property. The plaintiffs claimed they stand to lose up to $8.6 million as a result of the city's reversal.
The judge, however, sided with the City Council's interpretation of its zoning ordinance. And he ruled San Mateo was justified in overruling the decision of its staff.
"Granting (the petition) would impose a nonconforming use upon the objecting citizens of San Mateo due entirely to a mistake made by city staff," wrote Miram, adding later, "The community interest outweighs the private interest."
Jeff Gilbert, who lives in San Mateo Heights, said in an email he was pleased by the judge's order but wary of an appeal.
"David beats Goliath sometimes," said Gilbert. "A great day for the little guys."
City Attorney Shawn Mason said the city will now move forward with its own lawsuit to compel the market to close.
Contact Aaron Kinney at 650-348-4357. Follow him at Twitter.com/kinneytimes.