By John Crowder
Economic development, and especially the reputation of the City of Antioch as it seeks to bring in new business, was the dominant topic at the council meeting on Tuesday, March 25. Following a lengthy discussion and a public hearing, the Council approved, on a 5-0 vote, making the changes necessary to the general and specific plan that would allow Auto Zone to bring an additional store to Antioch.
Auto Zone, a leading automotive parts distributor, with over 5,000 locations in the United States and Mexico, made a proposal over a year ago to develop the vacant lot on the northeast corner of Lone Tree Way and Fairside Way in the city. However, their efforts to do so had been slowed as the company sought to meet various requests put forward by city staff with respect to the development of the property, and then the Planning Commission voted 4-1 to deny their application.
During the Council meeting, staff laid out their objections to allowing Auto Zone to develop the subject property. These concerns included a perceived incompatibility with the surrounding residential neighborhood, safety concerns with respect to traffic, and potential noise issues.
Following the staff report, Jeff Halbert, representing Auto Zone, addressed, point by point, each of the concerns that had been brought up by staff. He expressed some frustration in dealing with city staff over the time in which they had been having discussions regarding the project, stating that he “felt that he should be treated fairly, and given a fair hearing, and that hasn’t happened.”
He noted that Auto Zone had paid for a number of studies, all of which had concluded that Auto Zone would not have a significant negative impact. He stated that vehicle traffic estimates for the store were quite low during peak hours, and that Auto Zone would agree to changes that would alleviate any traffic concerns connected with the movement of automobiles on Lone Tree Way. With respect to noise abatement, he pointed to staff’s own comments, noting, “To say that there are noise issues is erroneous. Staff has pointed this out in response to comments.” He continued, pointing out steps that Auto Zone would take to mitigate any noise concerns.
Following Halbert’s comments, several local luminaries spoke in favor of Auto Zone bringing a store to the Lone Tree Way site.
Regular council attendee, Fred Hoskins was the first to speak.
“I took the time to read the entire staff report, and the things that were discussed behind the scenes,” he said. “I think that our city planning commission, is basically anti-business. Maybe we ought to change our attitudes, the planning commission, and say, ‘maybe we need to change our attitudes here.’”
Don Freitas, a former Antioch mayor, also spoke in favor of the project.
“We’re talking a lot about economic development…from my perspective economic development means [bringing businesses to our community.] The question before you, are we going to continue keeping [the lot] vacant, or bring in Auto Zone?” he asked. “We need to change our reputation with regard to being business friendly, or business unfriendly.”
Long-time resident and local Realtor, Ralph Garrow also spoke in favor of the project.
“I think you need to look at the big picture on this. Antioch has a reputation in the commercial real estate business as being anti-business,” he shared emphatically. “We need to find a way to make this work, not just have staff go through their rule book and say, ‘no,no,no,no,no.’”
Dr. Sean Wright, CEO of the Antioch Chamber of Commerce, also addressed the council, stating, “I’m here on behalf of the Antioch Chamber of Commerce in support of Auto Zone, today.”
Another former mayor, Joel Keller, who was a consultant on the project, also weighed in, saying, “I would urge you to support this proposal…If you approve this, people will know that the door is open for business in Antioch.”
Following the public comments, Council members discussed the matter. They questioned the Auto Zone representative, primarily with respect to what type of jobs the store would bring to the community. Mayor Harper directed some remarks toward city staff about being more welcoming to business, after asking them some pointed questions during their presentation.
Once the council members’ questions were answered, Mayor Pro Tem Rocha made a motion with several parts, in support of allowing the Auto Zone project to go forward. But even before the 5-0 vote, approving the project, Mayor Harper officially welcomed them to Antioch.
Council bans feeding feral cats
In another issue, the Council voted 4-1, with only Council Member Tiscareno voting against, an ordinance recommended by staff to ban the feeding of feral cats on public property. At the same time, the Council directed staff to continue to try to work with those groups who were opposed to the ban to find other solutions to the feral cat problem that might be considered “more humane.”
The ordinance banning the feeding of feral cats on public property generated a considerable amount of public comment, both for and against. Those speaking out in support of the ordinance noted the health and quality of life concerns associated with a feral cat population in the city. Comments made by Nancy Fernandez were typical. “The city has become one big cat box,” she said.
On the other side, many self-professed animal rescue volunteers spoke against the ordinance. Their main issue was what they perceived as an inhumane reaction to the feral cat problem.
During the discussion of the issue by the Council, Councilman Gary Agopian twice addressed the audience, asking them to show him some respect, and to stop interrupting him during his comments. Following his second attempt to outline his thinking on the matter, he introduced the motion that the Council ultimately passed.