Cavanaugh conversion coming
After two years of working with city staff to come up with a design they liked, Bill Phua got the Planning Board’s okay to move forward with his plans to turn the former Cavanaugh Motors building and an old house behind it into a two-story restaurant, retail and office complex with a parking lot out back.
Monday’s hearing to approve the building design and reductions in the city’s parking and landscaping requirements drew a raft of local business representatives who expressed anger over the slow pace of the approval process and what they deemed outrageous, last-minute demands from city staff.
Staff had asked Phua to pay for a host of bicycle and transit improvements and – apparently days before the hearing – to pull back a corner of his building by three feet, to improve visibility of pedestrians in the event a nearby traffic signal fails or is left flashing.
The draft resolution called on Phua to provide transit passes and secure bike parking for employees and to pay for the construction of a bus shelter. It also asks Phua to consider paying for a NextBus electronic sign in the shelter. (The sign condition was removed, and the three feet … well, they’re still working on that one.)
Alameda Chamber of Commerce past president Bruce Reeves said that people he’s asked to open businesses here in town have said they’d rather open a military recruiting center in liberal Berkeley. He said they have criticized the process as being too drawn out and inconsistent.
Alameda Marketplace owner Donna Layburn blasted the city for putting Phua through several rounds of design changes and for forcing him to pay for traffic and other studies, while his building sat vacant and Park Street suffered from economic hard times.
“People can build in Oakland. And Alameda is being left behind,” Layburn said.
Phua, meanwhile, thanked city staff and local business owners and representatives for their help and support – and also his consultant, Barbara Price.
“Without her, I wouldn’t know which door to knock (on),” said Phua, who owns the Oakland Flower Market. “I would be totally lost in this city.”
Board president Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft said she thought the revisions improved the look of the building, which is the first project in the city’s revitalization plan for its former Auto Row. And she said that businesses are flourishing on Park Street in spite of a tough economy and concerns about Alameda’s process for creating a business.
But the board’s newest member, Lorre Zuppan, said she had heard several complaints about the way Phua’s project was handled by the city. She said she was pleased the project made it to the Planning Board.
“When I was the chair of the Economic Development Commission and we asked people for their feedback about what we did to support businesses and what we did to discourage them, this was the poster child project. And I had almost a dozen people talk to me about this project as an example of what is wrong and how we discourage development in this city,” Zuppan said. “I hope that in the future, we can work to improve this process so we don’t have these kinds of issues.”