Pet hospitals, groomers and other animal care centers will soon be allowed to operate in San Rafael in areas reserved for business offices to meet a growing demand for such services and to fill office space as vacancy rates rise.
The City Council unanimously approved the measure Monday. The zoning amendment to make it happen was proposed by San Rafael attorneys Peter Spoerl and Riley Hurd, who said they have a number of clients eager to bring animal care businesses to the city.
“I think it’s going to be a really good fit,” Hurd told the council.
Pet care centers, excluding outdoor dog kennels and dog runs, were already permitted for use in other business districts in the city, said Jayni Allsep, a contract city planner.
The new ordinance would extend that to the city’s office district, which runs along the 101 Freeway corridor and throughout the northern part of the city, Allsep said.
Businesses will be subject to a number of performance standards, such as providing employee handbooks on site, conducting sound abatement studies and providing adequate waste facilities. The conditional use permit would require the approval of the city’s zoning administrator to operate.
Allsep said the Planning Commission approved the proposed ordinance at a meeting in June.
Cindy Machado, director of animal services at Marin Humane, said that while there is no way to count the number of pets in Marin, national trends show that more families have them since the pandemic hit more than two years ago.
“Marin definitely has higher numbers than a lot of other counties,” Machado said, noting the county averages about 17,000 registered licensed dogs each year.
While the county has about 40 veterinary clinics, Machado said “nationally, there is a tremendous shortage of veterinarians and staff that has created a large number of service capabilities of many hospitals in Marin and outside the county.”
“This sounds like a great move by the city,” Machado said. “It reflects the perspective of how the pets involved in our lives are more like family members than just animals.”
Overall in Marin County, commercial office vacancy rates have increased from 8.7% in 2015 to 17.1% today, according to market research by Cushman and Wakefield, a commercial real estate firm.
San Rafael is in line with this trend, recording an office vacancy rate of 11.6% in 2015 and 17.3% today.
By comparison, the office vacancy rate has been more stable in Sonoma County, decreasing from 12.8% in 2015 to 11.9% today, according to the report.
“Property owners across Marin need to rethink how they use existing office space,” Hurd said after the meeting. “While housing seems to be the dominant evolution for these sites, thankfully there are some other uses that are also in high demand, such as veterinary services.”
Vice Mayor Rachel Kertz said the ordinance provides additional opportunities to expand business uses.
“We need to continue to update our ordinances to fit the needs of our business community as well,” Kertz said.