Despite concern from some residents that it could doom area small businesses, a Starbucks with a drive-thru has been approved to locate in a Marina Bay shopping center.
On Thursday, the Richmond Planning Commission approved a conditional use permit to add a Starbucks Coffee store at the northwest corner of Harbor Gate Shopping Center at 2175 Meeker Ave.
The shopping center currently features a potential competitor in family-owned Cafe Pascal, as well as a CVS store.
Shopping center representatives said the Marina Bay area has been long-starved of services, and that the recession, coupled with the recently-completed construction of the Officer Bradley Moody Underpass, kept businesses from being viable. Now, businesses are ready to move in to provide services to local residents, said developer Ron Nahas.
The news of the conditional use permit — a final step for approval unless the Planning Commission’s decision is appealed — surprised Cafe Pascal’s owner when we called him Monday. He declined to comment.
Like the shopping center itself, Cafe Pascal had managed to survive a large reduction in foot traffic that resulted from the underpass construction, which closed that section of Marina Bay Parkway to traffic for more than 22 months.
Some residents from the Marina Bay Neighborhood Council opposed the Starbucks on the grounds that they believe it will hurt small businesses like Cafe Pascal, according to Stanley Anderson, president of Marina Bay Neighborhood Council, which did not take an official stance on the Starbucks addition.
Planning Commissioner Ben Choi, a candidate for Richmond City Council who is backed by the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA), voted in favor of the Starbucks. He then went on to publicly criticize “existing businesses” in the Marina Bay area, saying he is a longtime resident of the neighborhood who didn’t like the “long waits.” Choi added he is a former barista.
Cafe Pascal is the only coffee shop in the shopping center.
“I hate to say this, but as someone who has lived in this neighborhood for a long time, I wish I liked those neighborhood businesses more,” said Choi, adding he would usually vote against “formula” retailers. “I’ve lived there for a long time and I do not get treated very well in those places that we’re talking about. I have long waits…I’m actually shocked they could survive as businesses.”
Fellow Commissioner Marilyn Langlois, also an RPA member, voted against Starbucks.
“I personally think Richmond has too many formula restaurants,” she said. “I love locally-owned unique establishments that give neighborhoods their character.”
The conditional use permit for the Starbucks was approved following some debate over traffic and parking issues related to the drive-through, as well as landscaping near the store.