Catalina Island

City Council Approves Vons Project

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At the August 4, 2015 City Council Meeting, the only agenda item was the Catalina Eucalyptus Sumner Alliance’s (CESA) appeal of the Planning Commission’s approval of the Vons project. The City Council approved the Site Plan and Coastal Development Permit and adopted a Revised Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) and Mitigation Monitoring Program, by a vote of two in favor, Oley Olsen and Joe Sampson, to one against, Richard Hernandez.

Three Council members had to excuse themselves from voting due to a conflict of interest, they were Mayor Anni Marshall, Councilmember Cinde Cassidy, and Councilmember Richard Hernandez. In order have a quorum of three voting council members, one of the three was selected to participate several months ago, which was Richard Hernandez.

On November 19, 2014, the Avalon Planning Commission approved a Site Plan and Coastal Development Permit (CDP) for a new 23,044 square-foot Vons Grocery Store, located at 240 Sumner Avenue (that’s the corner of Sumner and Beacon) but turned down Vons’ request for Conditional Use Permit to allow a Restaurant/Bar/Cafe. On December 3, 2014, the Catalina Eucalyptus Sumner Alliance filed an appeal of the Planning Commission’s action challenging the adequacy of the MND and requesting that the City Council hear the Project de novo. In a de novo hearing, the City Council may consider all aspects of the project and is not limited to hearing only the issues raised by the appeal.

The Project consists of a Coastal Development Permit and Site Plan to allow the construction and operation of a two story, 23,044 square-foot grocery store that includes an elevator for access to the upper floor. The project site is located on a 3.13 acre parcel owned by the Santa Catalina Island Company and is zoned Commercial. Sec. 9-6.202 of the Avalon Municipal code identifies Grocery Stores as one of the Principal Uses permitted. Surrounding properties are zoned Commercial and Special Commercial, although many are developed for residential uses, including several vacation rentals.

The maximum height of the various roof gables proposed is 30 feet above finished grade, which is approximately 34-feet above existing grade, which is below maximum building height of 40 feet permitted in the Commercial zoning district. The second story mezzanine will contain the majority of the administrative areas and additional inventory storage in 3,905 square feet that will be accessible by a freight elevator.

Off-street parking consists of two accessible vehicles, one standard full-size vehicle, and 23 autoette-sized vehicles, together with bike racks and a drop-off area at the curb on Sumner Avenue to accommodate taxi service. An enclosed loading dock, and trash collection and recycling area is located on the south side of the building. The loading dock will be fully enclosed and a sliding door will be installed, which will be closed for noise attenuation when delivery trucks occupy the space.

The exterior treatment of the store will reflect a craftsman architectural style combining shiplap siding with stone wainscoting around the foundation of the building. Trellis structures will be installed on portions of the walls facing Beacon Street and Catalina Street. Climbing, flowering vines will be planted and trained to climb the trellises to provide visual interest and to soften the structural elements of the building.

In CESA’s appeal it stated that other sites may be more appropriate for the Project. The appeal stated that impacts that will result from the project will not be adequately mitigated, including water use, greenhouse gas emissions, noise, and traffic safety and congestion.

The City staff amended the MND to include the mitigation measures addressing project lighting, air quality, biological resources, traffic, and hydrology, and retained Mitigation Measures pertaining to Noise Cultural and Paleontological Resources and Housing. The Mitigation Monitoring Program for this Project has been amended accordingly to address potential impacts.

Vons representative Brian Braaten presented the proposed project to the City Council. How they worked through several design conceptions trying to please the public with a building design with asthetics, height, and volume that would work in the neighborhood, before deciding on a craftsman style building. That the freight loading dock was fully enclosed to mitigate noise. On the roof would be 36 solar panels, water tolerant landscaping would be planted, and an air cooled energy efficient refrigeration system would be used, which decreases water usage.

Braaten stressed that a bigger store would allow for a wider choice of products. A store with more produce, and a larger variety of meat products, frozen foods, packages foods, etc., and additionally a larger store would be able to accommodate the growth of the town during the next 50 to 60 years.

As for a different site to build Vons, they commented that they were too dependent on tourist dollars to build the store close to City Hall or where the Stables were once located. Vons wanted to be closer to the beach, and feels that building the store on Beacon is the right thing to do for Catalina’s needs for the long term growth of the City.

After the Vons presentation, several representatives from the Catalina Eucalyptus Sumner Alliance spoke about their concerns. They commented that they were not against a new, improved Vons, they were against a Vons that would be like the big-box Vons stores on the mainland, that would ruin the character of the neighborhood. They wanted Vons to be a better neighbor. They worried about the size of the store, two-and-a-half times larger than Vons on Metropole Street and 34-feet high, impacting the public’s view of the mountains. Also, CESA did not feel that trellis plants would eliminate the long box look of the store’s exterior walls.

There were concerns about construction noise, with construction being allowed on Saturdays, that it failed to account for tourism with nearby hotels, a bed and breakfast inn, and vacational rentals. Also, there had not been a construction-staging plan filed.

CESA commented that many people expressed that the project should be approved because the site is zoned commercial and that Vons was not asking for any Variances. CESA cited that Vons was the most industrial thing in Avalon, and that a large store is not appropriate for the Beacon Street location, and Vons should build a smaller store. They agreed that Avalon needs a more food and a better quality store, but felt that could be achieved in a 19,000 square foot store, which would also allow for more parking.

Some of the other concerns CESA had were: No inclusionary employee housing was required for the new store; planned parking is inadequate, more than one full-sized space is needed, as people from the interior drive full-size autos, and more golf cart places are needed; water allotment was not adequate for the store, and that Vons would actually use more; and freight delivery times.

One of the issues raised regarding parking, was that Vons would post a “Parking Lot Full” sign, and people would come back to shop when the store was not busy, and eventually learn the least busy times to shop.

Paul DeMeyer, Santa Catalina Island Company, said that the new Vons would get its water allotment from its former tenant at the site, Wilcox Nursery, as well as excess water savings from the Golf Gardens, stating it has saved 672,000 gallons in the last 12 months, which is enough to operate three or four 23,000-square-foot Vons stores.

The general public, spoke on both sides of the issue.

The “Silent Majority,” all wearing red shirts to show their support for a new 23,000 square-foot new Vons, held a rally before the meeting just across the street from City Hall. Many signed up to speak to the City Council, while others signed a statement, which was read at the Council Meeting, in support of the new Vons store.

The red-shirted speakers cited some of the problems shopping at Avalon’s outdated, small Vons’ stores. Having to shop at two stores, and many people traveling to the mainland to shop at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s to get products they want or need for special dietary needs. That proper nutrition was difficult without fresh foods.

Comments were made that no matter where in Avalon a new bigger Vons store could be planned, there would be a group of 20 people, plus or minus, that would be fighting against it. That it’s a difficult decision, and one that can’t please everyone – nobody wants it in their front yard. With both the Planning Commission and the City staff supporting approval of the Vons project on Beacon, and that the City Council had put the people on the Planning Commission and hired City Staff to make informed choices, that Council should not undermine their decision. Most people were sensitive to the concerns of CESA, but felt the town needed a new store and the large size would be good plan now and for the future that would serve the community for the next 50 to 60 years.

Many people supporting CESA spoke, agreeing with CESA’s concerns. Comments were made that the new Vons would have three sides surrounded by residential  and it would look out of place. Most agreeing that the size of the store is too big. One person went as far to suggest that the Vons store size should be reduced 40 percent to 15,000 square feet, and that Vons should cut out non-food items including the deli, liquor, cards, foods to go, etc.

Parking was a frequent topic, and was said to be a big challenge, as many people who work park all day on Catalina and Sumner streets and they would loose their parking when those streets are converted to one-hour parking. Also, for the residents that live on those streets that park all day, would there be “residents stickers” allowing them to park all day? Where are Vons’ employees going to park?

Councilmember Joe Sampson was also concerned with lack of parking. He commented that he had met with the Santa Catalina Island Company, about acquiring land to increase parking on Sumner Street. To get a strip of land so that the sidewalk could be moved and the grass area eliminated to allow vertical parking (just like on Metropole), thus increasing parking by nine or 10 spaces. But this will be a separate project for the City and the Island Company to work out.

Joe was also concerned with: traffic congestion at the Beacon and Sumner intersection: run-off water collection to use for irrigation and washing of sidewalks; and the request of one family to have Vons pay for three-paned windows to mitigate noise in their bed and breakfast business.

Councilmembers Richard Hernandez’s main concern was for Vons to build a lower and smaller building, which would have not only the benefit of a smaller-scaled building, but would also allow for additional parking.

Councilmember Oley Olsen wanted a limit on the time deliveries could take place, and during construction wanted there to be person in the project management who people could call with complaints or concerns.

The problem of shopping carts was discussed. While Vons wanted people to be able to use the carts to take their groceries home, and thus encourage people to walk to the store, the Council wanted a cart-containment system. Also, it was suggested that Vons consider a grocery-delivery service or a drive-thru in front for customers to pick up their groceries
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Although the City needs to work with Vons on freight delivery times, trash pick-up times, inclusionary housing and explore additional parking with the Santa Catalina Island Company, the City Council approved the Vons project with the revised Mitigated Negative Declaration, and Site Plan and Coastal Development Permit .

Photo & Story crdit: Barbara Crow