Richmond City Council on Tuesday halted a project to build a mini storage facility with artist studios at 205 Cutting Blvd. amid opposition from the Sante Fe Neighborhood Council.
Councilmembers Demnlus Johnson III, Melvin Willis, Ben Choi and Eduardo Martinez voted in favor of the neighborhood council’s appeal of the project’s conditional use permit, which had been approved by the Richmond Planning Commission in February. Councilmember Nat Bates abstained and Councilmember Jael Myrick, who lives near the project location, and Mayor Tom Butt, whose firm, Interactive Resources, has done recent work with the existing owner of the site, recused themselves from voting.
Texas-based Baranof Holdings wanted to construct a 3-story, 82,000 square foot mini storage project with space for artist work studios, a café and/or bike shop. Currently, the site harbors a 7,788 square-foot masonry building used by Whale Point Marine & Hardware. The Whale Point owner announced an intention to relocate to 145 Tewskbury in Point Richmond.
City staff said the project was a reasonable use for the light-industrial site, and Baranof said high demand and low supply for storage units in the area prompted its interest in investing in the location.
But some residents, including members of the Santa Fe Neighborhood Council, one of whom directs a competing nearby storage business, twice voted to reject the project, arguing there are already five existing storage facilities in the area and that the project doesn’t create enough jobs and other economic benefits for the community.
Tuesday night’s council hearing featured commentary from community members on both sides of the issue.
Councilmembers who approved the SFNC’s appeal expressed concern over a perceived lack of outreach to the neighborhood council by the developer. SFNC President Vernon Whitmore told council Tuesday his group felt insulted that the Richmond Planning Department and Baranof didn’t reach out to the neighborhood council at the onset of the project’s planning. He said developers behind approved projects for a 7-Eleven and a marijuana grow in the area reached out earlier than Baranof.
Baranof representatives said they conducted extensive outreach to SFNC after learning about its existence, twice presenting the project to SFNC members. The public outreach resulted in the incorporation of space for artist studios, a cafe and bike shop, as well as a promise to fund a neighborhood gateway sign and nearby trail improvements, according to Baranof. The developer also offered $5,000 in annual community benefits to the neighborhood council. While SFNC leadership had reportedly expressed interest in a community benefits agreement, according to city staff, the neighborhood council ultimately decided to reject the project.
Before voting against the project, Councilmember Johnson said project proposals must be introduced to neighborhood councils before they reach the design review board phase.
“We want businesses in Richmond…but we also want you right with the community that you’re going to be in,” Johnson said.
Councilmember Bates warned about the precedent the project’s rejection would send to businesses looking to invest in Richmond.
“Any one of you who come before the City Council and you go through the process, you have all the hearings, and then you come before the council and we reject you,” Bates said. “To me that is sending a negative and bad message to any business that wants to come in this city.”
After the council’s vote, the project is officially dead. The sale of the property to Baranof was contingent on the approval of the project by the City of Richmond. The developer is “done with this project and Richmond” after spending $40,000 in city permit fees and over $150,000 in project planning, said David Schoenthal, a local consultant who represents Baranof.
Schoenthal suspects the property will remain vacant for years to come.
“Maybe some of these opponents who said this is a vital gateway to the neighborhood will finally purchase the location and build whatever they want,” Schoenthal said.