OAKLAND -- An unofficial vote by the Oakland Planning Commission on Sept. 19 denied BevMo's application for a retail location on 3868 Piedmont Ave. despite the staff's recommendation to approve it, but that could change when the commission addresses the item again next month.
More than 100 neighbors and business owners attended the meeting, as did BevMo representatives along with several retail employees. Although the applicant's counsel requested a continuance, citing insufficient time to review a letter from a Piedmont Avenue Neighborhood Improvement League attorney, postponement was not granted.
While the commission voted 4-0 against the controversial project -- citing issues such as parking, increased traffic and an overabundance of liquor licenses in the area -- the official vote will take place during the Nov. 7 meeting, which will include the three absent commissioners.
"It's likely that the denial will stand," said Scott Miller, the city's interim planning and zoning director. While it is possible that the three previously absent commissioners will vote to approve the project, it would take an additional member to sway the majority.
According to Miller, while community members present at the meeting were concerned about BevMo overpowering nearby alcohol retailers, the planning commission based its decision on traffic and zoning issues. The commissioners cited the lack of parking and the inability of delivery trucks to access the parking lot as factors that would result in increased congestion.
"BevMo clearly caters to people who drive to their sites because they encourage people to buy in bulk," said Commissioner Chris Patillo, adding that traffic will increase no matter which retailer moves into the building. While Patillo said she shops at BevMo, her vote hinged on the applicant's inability to successfully demonstrate the need to grant the variances which would allow the store despite it being within 1,000 feet of a day care center, park, senior citizen facility and another liquor store.
Commission Chair Vien Truong said the in addition to traffic, neighbors' concerns that alcohol-related activity near their homes would worsen was a deciding factor.
"A lot of neighbors showed pictures and evidence of how many bottles they were getting on their lawns," Truong said.
Several neighbors testified that they regularly see people drinking in parked cars and then heading to the nearby bars. Some say they have witnessed individuals urinating on lawns. BevMo responded by citing its excellent record with the Federal Department of Alcohol and strict carding policies.
"It was hard for us to say no, especially to a good business," Truong said. "Our role is to really represent the community and what the community wants."
While BevMo representatives were very willing to make concessions on architectural and design issues brought up by the commission, they refused the advice to relocate the project entirely. Valerie Winemiller, a Piedmont Avenue Neighborhood Improvement League organizer, said she and others have suggested that Broadway would be a better location.
"BevMo has a market in this city, but [Piedmont Avenue] is not the place for them," she said. "We've been telling them this right from the first meeting."
While commissioners like Patillo don't think BevMo can allay their concerns at the next hearing, representatives of the chain have not given up.
"We look forward to coming back and presenting our project again," said Greg Endom, vice president of real estate and construction for BevMo. He could not say whether traffic studies or any other new evidence will be presented.
If commissioners deny the proposal again in November, Miller said BevMo can appeal to the Oakland City Council, and will probably do so. If the council upholds the denial, the next step would be a lawsuit, which Miller said is unlikely.