Antioch city staff need greater flexibility on development projects
This next week, the Antioch Planning Commission will be addressing a proposal for another AutoZone auto parts store, in our city. Sounds good, huh? A national chain wants to expand in our city.
Yet, at a time when Antioch needs all the sales and property tax revenue and jobs we can handle, in order to meet the needs of our community – specifically the hiring of more police to help reduce crime – city staff is opposing the project. While I’m not surprised – as it’s been the city’s earned reputation of saying “no” to businesses and being difficult for those wanting to locate here – I am amazed that somehow they have either not got the message from the Council that we need the revenue or there’s a serious disconnect from reality and being part of Team Antioch, on the second floor where the Community Development Department, which includes Planning, is located.
The third and more likely reason however, is, that city staff doesn’t believe they have the flexibility to work with a project proponent, out of fear of either having their ideas overturned by the Planning Commission or City Council or both, or losing their jobs. They have good reason. In the past, a top building official bent over backwards much too far to work with a project proponent who had built a two-story building when he only had a permit for a one-story. That official was soon fired. So staff’s fear of job loss is real. But all those fears need to change.
Back to the AutoZone project, why does staff oppose a national chain from building, opening and operating a third location in Antioch? One reason is staff is requiring them to provide 39 parking spaces, on the lot upon which it’s proposed, as required according to staff’s interpretation of the city code. City staff is running their calculations based on square footage of the entire building – half of which is used as a warehouse for auto parts – instead of just the space actually used for the retail store. If staff would use that approach then only 18 parking spaces.
Even after a parking study showed the other two AutoZone stores in Antioch never had more than 16 to 18 parking spaces used, during the stores’ busiest time of the week, Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Yet, AutoZone is proposing 23 parking spaces. Similar stores on similar sized lots in Concord and San Jose have been approved.
Concord’s AutoZone store size: 7,462 SF on a .52 acre lot. 19 spaces. 1 space/393 SF Approved 7/30/12
San Jose’s AutoZone store size: 7,700 SF on a .53 acre lot. 22 spaces. 1 space/350 SF Approved 9/3/12
Antioch’s proposed store size: 7,928 square feet on a .56 acre lot. 23 spaces proposed. 1 space/345 SF
The other reason for staff’s opposition is that due to the location of the property, and it’s size, there isn’t enough room to place that size of a store on that small of a lot, have two driveways far enough away from the intersection, and have the 39 parking spaces, and have enough setback from the sidewalk and street.
The lot is unique. It’s an infill space at the corner of Lone Tree Way and Fairside Way, next to the Bella Rosa Apartments. It’s owned by the Liberty Union High School District in Brentwood.
AutoZone is proposing placing the store on the corner, at the edge of the sidewalk, and the driveways on the other edges of the property, as far away from the intersection as they can be. Staff says that violates the city code, which is correct. But, that’s also way there are things called variances or a planned unit development (PUD) in the city’s ordinances, which gives a project exceptions. This is one of those lots, projects and times such an exception should be allowed.
It has taken AutoZone 11 months, working with city staff to finally appear before the Planning Commission for a decision. In addition, to date, AutoZone has spent over $37,000 on city required studies and reports and has paid over $18,000 to local consultants in the preparation of plans and responding to the many requests from the city.
Yet, staff is still recommending that the Planning Commission recommend to the City Council that they deny the project’s application. Worse, they only provided the Commission with a resolution to deny the application and not one for approval, as if they were seeking to further influence the Commissioners. That’s inappropriate. The Commissioners are the ones who get to make the recommendation to the City Council, not staff.
This can help the city be on an upward spiral. With more businesses in Antioch, generating both greater sales and property tax revenue for the city, while creating jobs for our residents, which in turn gives them more money to spend in local businesses, the city will have more money to pay for more police and help reduce the crime in town – without the need for tax increases.
Just like when the Council sent a strong, positive message to city staff when they approved the reopening of Kelly’s, recently, by a local, small business owner, it needs to do so again. But this time the message will go much further, since they’re dealing with a national company.
It’s time our City Council and new City Manager sent a message to the staff on the second floor that it’s good to be flexible and to say “Yes” to businesses that want to locate in Antioch, and to find ways to make things happen instead of finding reasons to oppose them.
If not, Antioch will continue to lose out to Pittsburg, Brentwood and Oakley where it’s been easier to locate, open and operate a business, and we will continue to fun deficits, not have enough police and be asked to raise more taxes to pay for them, and continue on a downward spiral that we’ve been on for far too long. With the passage of Measure C and hiring of more police, this is one more way Antioch can help turn things around in the right direction.
It’s time all parts of city hall worked together as “Team Antioch” for the benefit both businesses and residents.
The Planning Commission meets Wednesday night at 7 p.m. in the City Council Chambers, 3rd and H Street, in Antioch’s historic downtown Rivertown. To read the complete staff report on this item, click here.