Richmond City Council voted Tuesday to approve plans for a Dollar Tree store at 12300 San Pablo Ave., but only if the project adheres to a number of added conditions proposed by the local neighborhood council. Among the conditions is the requirement for a traffic impact study, as well as efforts to mitigate any traffic safety issues identified in that study.
The question left unanswered in the wake of Tuesday’s vote, however, is whether Dollar Tree will accept the additional conditions or walk away from the project over what the property’s representatives described as mounting costs and delays.
The proposal to locate a Dollar Tree store at the intersection of San Pablo and Barrett avenues, near the entrance to I-80, has drawn neighborhood opposition not just over potential traffic impacts, but also concern over issues such as noise, lighting and signage. Some community members additionally expressed concern over the discount chain’s potential to draw crime, its proximity to similar stores and its potential to cut into the sales of local small businesses.
Roger Mills, commercial real estate broker for the owners of the property, says the site has remained vacant for nearly five years due in part to city zoning rules that limit types of uses to retail. The vacant property has become a source of blight, Mills said, adding that it is time to get the best tenant possible for the site, which he says is Dollar Tree.
“We had many people who wanted to do car lots, we had a car rental company who wanted to be here, but they were discouraged by the Planning Department because it was not allowed under the zoning rules,” Mills said.
Mills said attempts to attract businesses that neighbors would prefer over Dollar Tree, such as a Trader Joe’s or a Whole Foods, were not successful.
“It just wasn’t possible in this neighborhood,” he said. “The demographics in the area, the type of commercial area this is, this was the type of tenant who chose this particular building and this particular project. While we would all like to have the highest, most upscale tenant possible, there really aren’t many out there.”
Adding the Dollar Tree store to this location, according to project representatives, would “completely revitalize” the property via “significant building and site improvements, new landscaping and lighting, and local art, bringing new activation along an important city corridor.”
The city says Dollar Tree has made a number of concessions during the planning process, which has reportedly spanned nine months and seven public meetings. Dollar Tree has agreed to modify hours of operation and delivery vehicle times, to add fencing for residential neighbors and to follow police recommendations on security, and to reduce the size of one of the store’s signs, among other measures, according to city staff. The neighborhood council, however, said Dollar Tree hasn’t gone far enough to address its concerns about the project.
On Jan. 18, the Richmond Heights Neighborhood Council (RHNC) filed an appeal objecting to the Richmond Planning Commission’s conditional approvals for the project. At a City Council meeting on Tuesday, Jim Hanson, president of the RHNC, recited the neighborhood council’s demands for approval, which include conducting a traffic safety impact study; installing a commercial sound-absorbing wall at the loading dock; requiring the business to close no later than 8 p.m. (rather than 9 p.m.); prohibiting delivery trucks from leaving the loading docks after 9 p.m. (rather than prohibiting them from arriving after 9 p.m.); evaluating parking lot lighting intensity; and further adjusting store signage.
City Council voted in favor of requiring Dollar Tree to adhere to those conditions if it wants to operate at the location.
Prior to the vote, Arielle Harris, attorney for the property owners, said the conditions are “unecessary, burdensome and will overly constrain operations.” She says traffic safety as well as volume were both studied in relation to the project, adding that “traffic for this project simply does not rise to the level of requiring additional traffic safety analysis or traffic safety measures.”
According to city staff, a traffic study prepared by W-Trans, a traffic engineering firm, found that the project “would not generate more than 100 net-new peak-hour trips; therefore, the project does not meet the threshold criteria for a traffic impact analysis requirement under Contra Costa Transportation Authority.”
The neighborhood council, however, believes the study’s impact on traffic safety has been inadequate, and is calling for an examination into potential impacts on San Pablo Avenue and surrounding streets. The traffic safety study should be funded by Dollar Tree and implemented by the city’s Public Works department, according to the neighborhood council.
Harris agreed there are existing traffic problems in the area, but said they are not related to the Dollar Tree project. She expressed concern that further costs and delay to the project might render the Dollar Tree plans infeasible. The owners of the property can’t walk away, “but Dollar Tree can walk away,” she said.
Hanson called the neighborhood council’s conditions for project approval “very reasonable.”