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Planning Board okays Park Street convenience store

Submitted by on 1, October 13, 2009 – 6:00 amNo Comment

bettertradedisc1The Planning Board has okayed a use permit for a controversial convenience store on Park Street.

The board voted 4-1 to allow Abdulmalik Harbi to set up shop at 1623 Park Street, subject to a host of conditions that include daily litter pickup, limits on the amount and type of tobacco and smoking paraphernalia he can sell and review of his use permit after one year.

Board President Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft cast the sole vote against the permit, saying she was concerned the business could adversely impact surrounding properties.

Planning staff had recommended approval of the permit, saying the storefront had been vacant for four years. Harbi’s attorney, George King, said he had already spent $40,000 improving the 2,000-square-foot space.

The store’s owner, whose family owns other businesses in Oakland, Hayward and Richmond, had originally proposed a smoke shop for the location, which led to fierce opposition from nearby residents and opposition from the Park Street Business Association (which has, according to Harbi’s attorney, decided to support the revised plan). Opponents garnered the signatures of hundreds of nearby residents.

Opponents questioned the wisdom of putting another convenience store on that part of Park Street, saying it would bring trouble, cause parking problems and look bad to visitors coming onto the Island over the Park Street Bridge. And they said they feared that Harbi would be selling bongs and other items often associated with illegal drug use.

“That’s not the kind of place you want in Alameda,” said Parwez Faizi, a longtime resident and restaurant owner. “We don’t want to turn this into – I don’t want to say Oakland, but it’s going to be East Oakland or West Oakland if we continue this kind of program.”

Harbi said he only plans to devote about 1 percent of his space, or 12 square feet, to tobacco products. He said he wouldn’t sell bongs or other tobacco paraphernalia, and that most of his space would be devoted to selling perfumes, colognes and other gift items, including “99 cent items and cheap items that I’m trying to have in this location” (the plans in the board’s packet are for a store called Better Trade Discount).

“I’m actually here to improve Park Street. That’s the promise I am making,” Harbi said.

Members of the board seemed reluctant to put the store in an area of Park Street they are working to revitalize. But they said it’s not their place to control the types of businesses that want to come to town.

“The issue of trying to control competition, of trying to control the use of the space, is a dangerous precedent for this board to be getting in,” Board member Andrew Cunningham said.

In approving the permit, the board barred Harbi from selling smoking paraphernalia that is associated with illegal drug use and required him to come back to the city if he plans to expand his selection of tobacco or related products.

A use permit was needed because the store is just under 300 feet from a residential neighborhood. Planning staffers said that if the store was a few doors down, its owner would not have been required to apply for a permit.

Three other items that would likely have generated a great deal of discussion – approval of a master tree plan, extension of truck delivery hours for some businesses at Alameda Towne Centre and a major design review for the old Cavanaugh Motors property – were all continued to future meetings.

Board members Anne Cook and Rebecca Kohlstrand were absent from Monday night’s meeting.

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