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Late-breaking developments

Submitted by on 1, September 17, 2008 – 8:45 amNo Comment

Late last night (or should we say, early this morning?), the City Council denied an appeal of the design review for an Orchard Supply Hardware store slated to go in the old Safeway building at Alameda Towne Centre, saying they don’t have the right to tell the shopping center’s management who to lease the space to.

Local business owners and others who opposed the store, who made up the bulk of the 30 or so speakers on the appeal, said it would hurt local hardware stores and garden centers. And they said it wouldn’t increase the Island’s flagging sales tax base, only redistribute the tax dollars local businesses provide to the shopping center.

They also argued that the agreement with Harsch Investment Properties, which owns Towne Centre, required an additional layer of review for a remodel of the Safeway building.

But representatives from businesses at Towne Centre and the center’s retail chief, Mike Corbett, argued that the store is a good fit for Alameda. And Corbett – who mentioned that Towne Centre is, at 50 years of age, also a longstanding local business – said he has tried without success to find other tenants for the building, which has been vacant for more than two years.

The design review is set up to address concerns about a building’s design, not its potential economic impacts, planner Doug Garrison told the council.

Council members – who we had the distinct pleasure of racing down to City Hall to catch live when our cable went out at about 11:30 – said that they’ve supported local businesses both with the city’s dollars and their own, and that while they’re sympathetic to the businesses’ concerns, they have to abide by what they said is the agreement they made with Harsch, which would allow the OSH.

Councilman Doug deHaan was the sole vote against denial of the appeal. He said the effects of the OSH plan needed more analysis.

But we gotta give props here to Mayor Beverly Johnson, who managed to invoke poor, bankrupt Vallejo (they apparently passed on such stores and said stores trotted just over the border to neighboring burgs, which reaped the tax benefits) and pump the Measure P transfer tax increase on the fall ballot, all in about three minutes’ time. (And this was some time after she joked that the council was taking bets on how late the meeting would go, ha ha!)

Then, in what could perhaps be viewed as an abundance of irony, the council unanimously moved forward an ordinance that would ban certain types of big box stores (okay, Wal-Mart). The Planning Board and the Economic Development Commission had both previously passed on the idea. But council members said the move would protect local businesses and that it sends a clear message about what type of retail uses aren’t permitted (anywhere but Alameda Landing and Harbor Bay, anyway).

Did we mention that this followed a 90-minute debate over someone’s plans to do some remodeling work on their house?

Perhaps not surprisingly, the big box ordinance was strongly supported by the local grocers’ union and the three or four people who were still at the meeting when this thing was moved, shortly before 1 a.m.

That’ll come back for a final vote soon.

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