Planning Commission votes down BevMo! permit requests

BevMo! repesentatives seated in the front stare straight ahead as residents and business owner from the Piedmont area, opposing the opening of a store on Piedmont Avenue and Montell Street, stand and hold up signs that read BevMo!? BevNo! during the city planning and commission meeting Wednesday.

BevMo! repesentatives seated in the front stare straight ahead as residents and business owner from the Piedmont area, opposing the opening of a store on Piedmont Avenue and Montell Street, stand and hold up signs that read BevMo!? BevNo! during the city planning and commission meeting Wednesday.

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.

10 Comments

  1. Benjamin

    What about a health food store and a fitness center? And also add a center for a guide to a healthy life style. Duh. Lets grow up and stop abusing our bodies. Set a good example for our youngsters and the next generation. It ain’t alcohol.

  2. Valerie Winemiller

    Two clarifications:
    1) I counted well over 100 residents and merchants there.
    2) The request for a postponement came from BevMo’s attorney, former planning commissioner Annie Mudge, who said BevMo needed more time to respond to it. The commission deliberated on the request and decided to hold the hearing.

    • Valerie Winemiller

      And it should be clear that the vote was a “straw vote” because zoning staff had not prepared the “findings” or legal language to describe the reasons for the denial.

  3. Valerie Winemiller

    One of the very compelling pieces ot testimony was from a neighbor of Egbert Sousé Bar, who described how patrons arrive with alcohol purchased elsewhere and get drink in their cars before and after hanging out in the bar. She had photos of drunks fighting in the street in front of her house, women (and men) publicly urinating, evidence of having sex in their cars, and other drunk and disorderly behavior. She urged the commission not to approve a retail outlet of discount alcohol, open til 9 or 10 at night, barely 300 paces from the bar. That kind of problem is part of the reason for Oakland’s 1,000 foot separation rule. BevMo carding customers would do no good there–patrons are sober when they buy it, and get drunk afterward, disrupting the neighborhood.

  4. There are two lessons here:

    1, yes we can successfully oppose unwanted businesses.

    2 we need some kind of method for ALL neighborhoods to be able to have their voices heard.

    I think that it is great that our neighborhood was able to muster the support and organize the opposition to this big box store.

    Other areas, especially the areas with more people of color, less folk with a college degree and / or lower income levels do not fare as well.

    Often projects get things dumped into neighborhoods that the locals do not want, but they do not feel that they can successfully oppose them or have a voice in their neighborhood planning and permiting.

  5. Build it on Broadway instead! Please?

  6. I am surprised no one is pointing this out, but it seems like public appointees and council-members say their top priority is jobs but then, when it comes time to vote for a variance that will lead to five full-time jobs, punt to a neighborhood group that apparently can afford to retain a lawyer (would this protest happen in other parts of Oakland? Is that fair?).

    I guess neighborhood businesses would be affected but we don’t know that (shouldn’t it be studied first?).

    Often, these places actually draw from well outside the neighborhoods they are in, and sales might actually end up increasing at the smaller shops near it overall due to more neighborhood people-traffic.

    More sales taxes = more cops and public services.

    It’s really easy to say “what about putting this there instead,” but whether it will be profitable for someone to do so is a completely different matter. Keep in mind this was a vacant storefront for a reason (is that really better)?

  7. Big Al

    Natasha Lettis, who grew up on Montell Street and still lives in Oakland. 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.” Are you kidding me, N.I.M.M.B.Y. – Not In My Memory Banks Y’all. First time at a committe meeting and you don’t even live there anymore.

  8. Tim

    It is pretty un-American to allow our government to restrict competition because new business might negatively affect existing businesses. Unless one of these NIMBYs knows of some other, better, company waiting to get into this space, the likely result is this staying an empty store and a waste of space. Oakland is not in a position to be denying permits to legitimate, popular businesses for dubious aesthetic and parochial reasons

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