Buellton city staff is recommending the Planning Commission authorize the continued operation of People Helping People’s thrift store on McMurray Road after none of the problems some feared the store would generate have surfaced since it opened earlier this year.
The Planning Commission is scheduled to review the operation of Thriftology when it meets at 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 16, in the City Council Chambers at 140 W. Highway 246.
Review of the thrift store is the only public hearing on the agenda.
Dean Palius, chief executive officer for Santa Ynez Valley People Helping People, said if the commission follows the staff recommendation, it will be a weight off the shoulders of his organization.
“We’re very appreciative of the opportunity to have the thrift store there and to now move forward with the operation,” he said, noting it represents a significant investment for the nonprofit operation.
“The people of Buellton have really turned out with donations and by shopping there,” he said, adding PHP has had fewer problems at the new site than it had at its previous location in Solvang, where “Dumpster diving” was sometimes an issue.
From 1998 until last year, People Helping People operated its thrift store in a 3,000-square-foot site in the Valley Plaza at Highway 246 and Alamo Pintado Road in Solvang.
But the current reconstruction to modernize that center into The Merkantile forced the organization to find a new site.
Located in suites A and B at 175 McMurray Road, the PHP Thriftology store opened its doors April 24 after receiving a conditional use permit from the Planning Commission on a 4-0 vote at a public hearing last December.
The hearing followed an initial review of the application in November 2016, and at both meetings the Planning Department staff expressed concerns about potential problems the store might generate.
Those included locating a donations collection bin outside the building and people dumping unwanted items around the store or in an adjacent vacant lot if they arrived with donations and found the store closed.
Staff was also concerned about PHP displaying merchandise outside the store and having a box truck used to pick up donations parked overnight and during the day in the small parking lot that serves Buellton Town Plaza, where the shop is located.
The permit approved by the Planning Commission barred People Helping People from installing an outside donation box and displaying merchandise outside the 2,000-square-foot store and required the box truck to be parked off-site.
Commissioners had considered requiring the nonprofit organization to install a six-foot, vinyl-clad chain-link fence around the vacant lot, which is not owned by the building’s landlord, posted with “no dumping” signs.
Instead, they required PHP to install motion-activated security lights and cameras outside the shop to deter people from dumping their unwanted items after hours.
A final condition ordered a review of the thrift shop operation after a year to be sure all the permit requirements had been met; if no complaints had been received, the commission could then authorize the shop to continue operating.
Although the shop didn’t open until the following April, the public hearing Nov. 16 will represent that one-year review.
In a written report to be presented to the commission that night, assistant planner Andrea Keefer said the city has not received any complaints about the store nor have staff members noticed any violations of the conditions imposed with the use permit.
“Staff recommends that the Planning Commission come to a consensus to allow Santa Ynez Valley People Helping People to continue to operate ‘Thriftology’ … without any additional conditions imposed,” Keefer said in the report.
The store not only provides shoppers with new or nearly new merchandise at low prices, but it also provides residents a way of putting items to reuse, rather than throwing them in a landfill.
It also raises a large percentage of the funds People Helping People needs to offer low-income individuals and families in the Santa Ynez Valley and Los Alamos its many programs, including assistance with food, housing, utilities, transportation, clothing and housewares.
PHP also provides access to physical and mental health, dental and insurance services as well as afterschool programs for elementary students, high school mentoring, anti-drug, anti-bullying and life skills programs, domestic violence and child abuse prevention and parent education.
The nonprofit organization also provides limited domestic violence prevention and basic needs assistance to farm and vineyard workers in the Lompoc Valley.