Planning Board okays CVS, Chase bank branch - with conditions
More than three hours into their fourth public airing of plans to construct a new CVS drugstore and Chase bank branch at the corner of Park Street and Tilden Way, members of Alameda’s Planning Board appeared prepared to bend to what one member called pragmatism in their efforts to shape the development plans. City staffers had worked to negotiate a host of changes to the plans, including the inclusion of clear windows along Park instead of opaque ones, and the board opted to meet the drugstore chain halfway.
Andrew Thomas, the city’s top planner, said the board’s approval of the project – which came, with more than 80 conditions, shortly after 11 p.m. Monday – would fill in “one of the prime sites” along a stretch of Park Street between Lincoln Avenue and the Park Street Bridge that auto dealerships which once served as a major tax generator for the Island had abandoned over the last several years. But the new development – as new developments often do – raised a host of concerns, too, chiefly among the residents who will live alongside it.
With the auto dealerships gone, Island residents and city planners were given some fresh canvas on which to draw plans for an extension of Park Street’s prized assemblage of restaurants and shops – and the replacement of at least some of the tax revenue that vanished with the dealerships. But residents of the Wedge neighborhood that abuts the shopping district also see an opportunity, to change what for many has been an uneasy coexistence with their commercial neighbors.
“This is a residential neighborhood, and we’d like that to be considered,” Wedge resident Nanette Burdick told the Planning Board on Monday night.
In 2008, city leaders approved a strategic plan for revitalizing Park Street north of Lincoln. Its goals were to erase the “auto-oriented feel” of the Island’s former auto row and to etch in a new, pedestrian-friendly shopping district that would look and feel like an extension of the historic building-lined blocks that trail south.
In an effort to bring speed and clarity to what some have complained is an arduous process to obtain development approvals, city planners also drafted new regulations and a design manual that specify what type of businesses will be permitted in the 20-block Gateway district, allowable architectural styles and requirements for fences, parking, lighting and more. But development in the district has outpaced the city’s ability to finalize and approve the new rules. (The Planning Board was slated to sign off on the regulations and design manual on Monday, but pushed the hearing off to their next meeting; even without the item on their agenda, the meeting stretched past midnight.)
Half of the city’s planning department was sacked in 2009 staff purge, leaving fewer staffers to manage major projects like the redevelopment of Alameda Point and zoning changes designed to allow the development of more affordable housing. The new regulations and the design manual for North Park Street have been nearly two years in the making.
But even if the new rules were in place, the Planning Board would retain the authority to review proposed building designs and to consider traffic and other impacts the newly erected businesses could create, along with development requests outside of what the city’s rules permit like CVS’s proposed 24-hour pharmacy drive-through. And some expressed concerns about balancing the needs of businesses, residents – and the city.
“This is the first – close to the first – development (in this area of) Park Street. It sets the standard, we’re setting the bar,” board member Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft said. “If we do things that are substandard, every future applicant will say, ‘They did it, so why can’t we?’”
A representative of the developer that builds CVS’s California stores said Monday that the drugstore chain made a number of changes to accommodate the city in its effort to move its Alameda store from its current Santa Clara Avenue location – a move the city has long sought. Josh Eisen of Armstrong Development said he expects the new Alameda location – which will be similar in height and design to the Alameda Marketplace next door – to cost $4 million, making it “likely one of the most expensive buildings in California.”
But Wedge residents said they don’t want to contend with the extra cars the new businesses would bring; they wanted a wall blocking access to narrow Foley Street, which sits behind the planned CVS location, and landscaping that would block their view of the project’s parking lot – which will sit behind the new buildings, as specified by the new North Park Street rules. They also expressed existing gripes about traffic and parking issues with the existing Marketplace businesses and with drivers who speed along Tilden Way.
Others called on the board to ensure that the new development is pedestrian-friendly, as envisioned in the Gateway plan. Audrey Lord-Hausman called on the board to make sure pedestrians, especially those with limited mobility, can safely navigate the “deadly” intersection of Park and Lincoln.
“If those intersections are not designed in a more safe way, I think we’re just asking for trouble,” said Lord-Hausman, a pedestrian and bike advocate who chairs Alameda’s Commission on Disability Issues.
Planning Board members deliberated over the width of the development’s proposed driveway, access to and from Park Street – and the windows – before signing off, mostly, on the development plans. CVS will be able to build the drive-through window but will be required to request the right to provide 24-hour service at a later date.
“We’re asking people to compromise,” Ezzy Ashcraft said. “Neighbors in the Wedge have to realize, you do live on the edge of a business district. You’ve got your benefits and you’ve got your burdens. But I don’t think we need to burden them with a 24-hour drive-through.”