After a three-hour hearing on a proposed supermarket in the boarded-up Albertsons/Lucky store on the El Cerrito-Richmond border, the Richmond Planning Commission held off taking action in hopes of fostering a dialogue between the project applicants and or other retailers they view as harmful to the neighborhood.
"We decided to give the neighborhood and surrounding community more time to work with the developer to try to come to an agreement about who would come in as a tenant," said Carol Teltschick-Fall, a member of the commission.
Though no tenant has been identified, a number of residents object to Walmart coming in. They also say allowing the supermarket to be open 24 hours and to sell wine, beer and liquor will increase crime and damage neighborhood quality-of-life.
Colliers International, the commercial real estate firm representing the owner, Antonio Carrico of El Cerrito, says no tenant has been selected yet and that it has spoken to several potential operators of the proposed supermarket.
Teltschick-Fall said Collier's representative, Henry Inglehardt, told her before the Thursday night meeting of the Planning Commission that he's talked with Fresh & Easy, Grocery Outlet, 99¢ Only Stores, Staples, Trader Joe's, Walmart and Whole Foods, among others.
Inglehardt earlier told Patch that no deal with a retailer can be struck until the conditional use permit and its terms are decided by the planning commission.
The commission decided to reopen the public hearing on the issue at its meeting on June 21, Teltschick-Fall said.
Commissioners "had reservations about approving the use without knowing who the tenant will be," said Kieron Slaughter, an assistant city planner for Richmond. They were reminded by the city attorney "that they couldn't debate a specific tenant nor could they make approval based on a tenant," Slaughter said.
The commission also wanted the city's Design Review Board to reconsider the exterior design for two sides of the 32,821-square-foot building, the side facing residences across Key Boulevard and the rear side facing El Cerrito's Baxter Creek Gateway Park, according to Teltschick-Fall.
A press release from "Alta Punta Terrace and Richmond Neighbors" distributed Saturday by El Cerrito resident Barbara Bennett, said, "At Thursday’s hearing neighbors of the project site were visibly agitated and even terrified of the prospect of a Wal-Mart in their neighborhood. They cited concerns over traffic, blight, crime and the company’s business practices both at home and abroad."
Patch has requested information from Walmart but has not received a reply.
The closed former Albertsons/Lucky store, surrounded by a chain-link fence, has suffered some vandalism and contributes to a forlorn look at the high-profile location at the intersection of two main traffic arteries, San Pablo and MacDonald avenues. On the same lot is a shuttered restaurant building, and across the street is a closed Safeway.
The property, which straddles the border between El Cerrio and Richmond, is a concern not only to nearby residents but also to officials and planners in both cities.
"That's a cornerstone property to the whole city of Richmond," Teltschick-Fall said. "That should be reflective of the city's vision."
The property is of concern also to the City of El Cerrito since it sits at the city's main north entrance and abuts the Baxter Creek Gateway Park and the planned link between El Cerrito's Ohlone Greenway and the Richmond Greenway.
Bennett told Patch that the neighborhood suffered when the Safeway was selling alcohol and open 24 hours: "They had muggings. They had shootings. They had zombie drug addicts knocking on doors in the middle of the night."
Teltschick-Fall said the crime issue was one reason Safeway eventually ceased 24-hour operation at that location before it closed entirely.
Bennett said she will attend a neighbors' meeting Tuesday night with the aim of trying "to collaborate with the developer and owner to try to get a grocery store that makes sense."