The one-of-a-kind shop Half to Have It sells vintage toys, outdoor décor and other eclectic items, but San Mateo County officials say the store and its merchandise clash with the seafaring zoning rules for Princeton.
After almost 20 years of business in downtown Half Moon Bay, the store relocated as the “Nest Gallery” in Princeton last year, moving into a two-story residence on California Avenue.
But the store’s new building is inappropriate for a retail shop, according to county planning officials, who point to fire hazards, parking problems and zoning violations. As it stands right now, the store is essentially running a permanent “garage sale” in its front yard, said County Supervisor Don Horsley.
“We discovered they just moved in and started operating this business,” Horsley said. “It’s unfortunate this is happening, but I’d assume if you’re a business owner that you’d check on this first.”
Nestled between Pillar Point Harbor and the Half Moon Bay Airport, the western portion of Princeton has gained the reputation of being a Gordian knot of special land-use rules and unique exemptions. The two-story house occupied by Half to Have It’s Nest Galley is no different. The property is zoned as a waterfront, meaning its use is supposed to have a direct tie to the marine commerce coming out of the harbor. Planning officials say such uses include processing seafood or selling surfing gear. But the parcel also can function as a residence, thanks to a grandfathered exemption originating decades ago.
The Nest Gallery first came on the radar of county officials earlier this summer during a meeting of the Princeton Task Force, a group organized by Horsley to work through the tangle of land-use problems and revitalize the area. At the meeting, representatives from the Coastside Fire Protection District and San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office raised safety concerns about the store.
Fire marshals flagged hazards such as nonserviced fire extinguishers, an illegal canopy, and extension cords that were running from inside the residence out to the yard. Sheriff’s officials said customers parking along the street could cause traffic hazards.
Using the concerns as the basis for an investigation, county code enforcement found that the store didn’t fit the criteria for a waterfront business. County officials warned that the business had to apply for a use permit but couldn’t guarantee whether the shop would fit their profile for a viable waterfront business.
Planning officials say they met with store owner Melissa Manson earlier this month and that she made the case her shop sold marine-related knickknacks including shells and sea glass sculptures. If the business played up its connection to the harbor — perhaps by selling more sea-themed merchandise — it might have a better shot at obtaining a use permit, said Steve Monowitz, the county’s long-range planning manager.
“The more nautical it is, the easier it would be for us to find it compatible,” Monowitz explained. “We’re not dictating what they want to sell, but we think that what they sell does relate to the compatibility and purpose of this district.”
After the investigation, Manson began urging her store’s fans to provide support, asking them to send letters to the supervisors. Supporters for the business point to many other code violations in Princeton as evidence that the Nest Gallery is being singled out.
Manson declined to comment for this story.
County officials insist the Nest Galley is not being treated differently from other businesses. Monowitz listed other recent enforcement efforts aimed at the Exclusive Fresh seafood company, an illegal garbage dump, and a family of squatters living in a dry-docked boat.