CITY HALL — A Walgreens store proposed for the southeast corner of Lincoln and Pico boulevards is not, in fact, a housing complex.
That seemed to be a central problem for planning commissioners who chose to put off a final decision on the pharmacy until the City Council fills a vacancy on the commission next week.
The five commissioners present had mixed feelings about the project, which consists of a 12,096-square-foot store with 30 parking spaces and car access only through an alley called Lincoln Court, immediately adjacent to an apartment complex.
It’s a difficult area to develop given its location is squished between two busy streets and the shallowness of the lot, said planner Michelle Glickert.
Staff and the applicant, represented at the meeting by principal Dillon Tidwell, have worked for three years to make the pharmacy meet City Hall standards.
It excised three parking spaces to put in more landscaping, installed a system to trap rainwater to keep pollution out of the ocean and wrapped light poles in photovoltaic material to power them sustainably.
The new facade was changed dramatically over the course of three iterations to include salvaged materials, increasing the sustainable nature of the store.
The Walgreens would actually represent a 4,000 -quare-foot decrease in space used for commercial development, with an additional 2,000 wrapped up in an underground basement.
In anticipation of the challenging review, the applicant temporarily rescinded a request for a permit to sell alcohol — shelving with alcohol would occupy 50 linear feet out of 1,100 in the store — and agreed to stay open between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. rather than operate 24 hours a day as originally proposed.
Even so, Tidwell acknowledged that the store, particularly with access located off of the 20-foot-wide alley, would impact its neighbors, but that the developer made a real effort to mitigate all the impacts it could.
“When you understand the difficulties inherent in this property, you’ll see we have a well-designed project in the area proposed,” Tidwell said.
Residents, however, weren’t thrilled.
With the exception of local activist Jerry Rubin and Mark Leevan, a Beverly Hills resident and owner and developer of the Blockbuster on Lincoln and Ocean Park boulevards, residents seemed wary of the project, if not outright against it.
Many complaints centered on traffic concerns, which they felt would be worsened by putting only one car entry point into the design.
The plans eliminated entrances, called curb cuts, on Lincoln and Pico in order to calm traffic, but force cars to instead take multiple turns until reaching the 20-foot-wide alley to reach the store.
“Why is the disruption of traffic on Pico and Lincoln more important than the comfort of residents?” asked Brian Moss, who lives in the area.
Moss also pointed out the number of grocery stores and pharmacies present in the area already, including one in the Albertsons across the street from the Blockbuster.
That argument seemed to speak to commissioners, who lamented the type of development taking place at the lot.
“We missed an opportunity to not have housing here,” said Commissioner Ted Winterer, who also took issue with the 30 surface parking spaces, which he called “appalling.”
Housing would mean less traffic impacts, and would fulfill one goal of the recently-adopted Land Use and Circulation Element of the General Plan, or LUCE, which encourages a mix of commercial and housing in city districts.
“I think we can all agree that when we went through the LUCE process, this is not what we envisioned for this site,” said Planning Commission Chair Jim Ries. “I’m not quite sure how we get a better project than this.”
It was like having a bird in the hand versus a “potentially nicer bird in the bush that might never appear,” Ries said.
No matter what the personal feelings on the proposed Walgreens, commissioners had to make a choice between the pharmacy and the use that already exists, which includes a number of empty storefronts.
“If we don’t approve this tonight, the site will remain as it is for a very long time,” said Commissioner Gerda Newbold. “Maybe that’s not a problem, but it’s not like there’s another fantastic use.”
To either approve or deny the matter, four of the five commissioners present would have to agree.
In the end, three — Jason Parry, Jennifer Kennedy and Winterer — voted against the project, while Ries and Newbold chose to send it on to the City Council.
Commissioners chose to wait until a future meeting, at which point all six of the standing members, and perhaps a new council appointee, might be able to give a definitive answer on the fate of that corner.