At the Oakland City Planning Commission meeting on Wednesday at City Hall, the commission voted against conditional use permits requested by Beverages and More (BevMo!) which has leased space on Piedmont Avenue at Montell Street to open a specialty liquor store.
Approximately 60 residents and merchants from Piedmont Avenue attended the meeting, urging the commission to decline BevMo’s permit applications, which were submitted in June. A smaller group of BevMo! employees and neighbors urged them to approve the permits.
In order to do business on Piedmont Avenue, the company would need not only permits that allow for the sale of alcohol and tobacco, but three variances that would allow the liquor retailer to sell its products within 1,000 feet of an existing alcohol outlet, a licensed daycare center and a public park. A permit is also required for the sale of tobacco within 1,000 feet of a residential zone.
If granted the permits, the company would also be able to move forward with plans to update the interior and exterior of the former video store, including improving the landscaping and installing a fence to house a container to dispose of cardboard boxes.
In the package of materials included with the company’s application, BevMo! states that the store would create five full-time and 10 to 15 part-time positions and generate additional tax revenue for the city. But in previous community meetings, neighbors have expressed concerns about people from outside the community loitering outside the store. Because the store’s design includes only 11 parking spaces, neighbors have also expressed concerns about increased traffic and said that the frequent unloading of large commercial trucks would create hazardous conditions in a residential area.
At Wednesday’s meeting, several BevMo employees and one business owner, Monty Parker owner of Top Cut Barber Salon, located on Piedmont Avenue, spoke in favor of the specialty store. “BevMo! will increase my business,” Parker said.
“It’s more convenient than Jack London,” said Dimond District resident Jackie Beddow. “Jack London is six miles from my house verses Piedmont which is a little over three miles. Plus, I can shop at Trader Joe’s, Fenton’s and Piedmont Groceries.”
Sitting in the audience listening was Natasha Lettis, who grew up on Montell Street and still lives in Oakland. Before the meeting began, she said this was her first time attending a committee hearing. “I’ve never even been to City Hall before because I don’t own a business,” she said. “So this was clearly important enough for me to come down here. I feel really passionate about making sure that my neighborhood—the neighborhood that I grew up in—stays the way that I remember it and continues to be a nice place that people enjoy coming to.”
Chuck Mignacco said the BevMo! store would be about four blocks from his front door. “When I go to Piedmont Avenue, I can buy a bottle of wine; I go into Vino, which is a family-owned business,” Mignacco said. “If I want a cigar I can go into Piedmont Tobacconist and I can get whatever I want in there. If I need hard liquor or other beer I can go into Piedmont Groceries. If I can’t find what I want at that Vino, I can go up to Piedmont Wine. In my mind there’s an assortment of businesses that are family-owned and operated on that street that would be directly impacted by this store.”
Members of the Piedmont Avenue Neighborhood Improvement League (PANIL) presented the commission with a tally of the number of Piedmont Avenue area residents and business owners who have signed the group’s petition opposing the opening of BevMo!—more than 3,000 signatures were collected said resident Andres Powers.
Leila Moncharsh, the lawyer for PANIL, told the commission that even though BevMo! is not as large as a WalMart store, it is not a true boutique store, as it was described in the planning commission report prepared by the staff. “These folks are not going to make it if they have to compete with pricing that literally pushes them out the door,” Moncharsh said, referring to other nearby business owners. “It is a large chain with incredible ability to out-compete smaller retail distributors. These small stores are what is part of the ambiance of Piedmont Avenue.”
At one point during the meeting, the commission considered postponing its vote on the permits at the request of BevMo! as the representatives wanted to a review a letter written by Moncharsh to BevMo! and the commission detailing concerns about traffic and other neighborhood issues and respond to the letter in writing. But after a tie vote on postponement, the commission moved forward with the meeting. “It does not appear there is any new information that would warrant a continuance,” commission chair Vien Troung said of the letter.
After more than two and a half hours of discussion, commissioner Chris Pattillo put forward a motion to approve all of BevMo’s permit requests. The motion failed to pass by a 4-0 vote.
Afterward, the commission was advised by City Attorney’s Office staff to prepare findings showing their basis for the permits’ denial, and to make a report available to BevMo! officials. Another meeting will be scheduled that will include the three members of the commission who were not present at Wednesday’s meeting. At that time BevMo! representatives and residents will have an opportunity to speak again. All parties have 10 days to file an appeal of a decision made by the commission.
“I am happy to see the community come together,” said Greg Endom, vice president of real estate and construction for BevMo!, about the large number of people who came to the meeting. “We look forward to continuing to try to work with the residents in the community.”
Other items on the agenda on Wednesday included a request from the owner of Parliament Bar to begin serving alcohol in his establishment. The request was approved 4-0 by the commission. The owner of Casa Jimenez Family Restaurant and Art Gallery, submitted an application with a request to extend the business hours of operation and to add liquor to the list of drinks offered in addition to beer and wine. The application was also unanimously approved.
The next meeting of the planning commission will be September 26.
This post was updated on September 24.