EMERYVILLE -- The City Council shocked and pleased numerous residents late Tuesday by voting down an IKEA proposal to "cross the train tracks" and expand into a nearby neighborhood.
The home furnishings giant had won approval in August from the city's Planning Commission to install itself in 60,000 feet of warehouse space at 5000 Hollis St., at 53rd Street, so customers would have a separate location to pick up the store's largest items.
The Planning Commission had approved that idea by a narrow 4-3 vote, a decision homeowners at nearby Emery Bay Village asked the City Council to overturn, though many feared the city would bow to pressure from big-box retail.
"I was very, very nervous when I came here," said Joan Bossart, an Emery Bay Village homeowner who was among about two dozen residents to speak against the IKEA plan at Tuesday night's council meeting. "Now I'm just euphoric, and very surprised."
The residents who spoke largely echoed a similar list of complaints about the proposal: It would draw unwelcome traffic and transient customers to the neighborhood; it would affect the safety of bicyclists, pedestrians and especially children who attend a nearby play gym; it would produce unwanted noise and air pollution during its daily operating hours, from 7 a.m.-10 p.m.; and IKEA's predictions about the number of customers that would be drawn into the neighborhood were modest at best and likely misleading.
An IKEA spokesman was not immediately available after the council made its unanimous vote to reject the proposal, as comments from the public took hours to complete and the council could not vote on the issue until after 10 p.m.
Joseph Roth, a spokesman for IKEA, said Wednesday the store is "a strong retail contributor to Emeryville and, we believe, a good neighbor," and that he felt the proposal had been fair and conscientious of the neighbors' concerns.
The Hollis Street property was the only site in the area that was suited to the needs IKEA was looking to fill, Roth said. Though some council members said they would consider another proposal at the same site if some significant changes were made, "that would require reconfiguring the entire layout of the property," Roth said. "It's not our property to reconfigure, so that's not really an option."
IKEA had reported that it has lowered prices 20 percent since opening in Emeryville in 2000 and that the extra warehouse space would be important to keep traffic high, revenue up and prices low in the recession.
"As of now, it's unclear what opportunities exist for us and what our next steps are," Roth said. "All we know is, we have a store that needs relief, so we're going to continue evaluating needs and see what solutions may exist out there."
The store has become the largest source of sales tax revenue for the city, which Councilman Ken Bukowski noted is crucial revenue at a time when the city is facing budget shortfalls and likely will have to reduce services.
However, he added, "I'm elected to represent the people in the city, and it's clear to me the overwhelming majority of folks oppose the plan. So I'm going to have to oppose it, too."
Contact Sean Maher at 510-208-6430.