With every development issue in the City of Santa Monica, traffic and parking consistently rank near the top of the most contentious issues that divide supporters from detractors. For the developer who wants to bring Walgreens to the corner of Lincoln and Pico Boulevards, it would appear pedestrian and vehicular circulation at one of Santa Monica’s busiest intersections has at least delayed the commercial property.
After discussing the issue for more than two hours on Wednesday, a shorthanded Santa Monica Planning Commission failed to recommend that the Walgreens project move forward.
However, the action – or inaction – does not mean Walgreens has hit the end of its road to develop the new store. Instead, in a 4-1 vote, commissioners decided to table the issue until the proposal could be considered by a full panel, as two commissioners were not present at the Sept. 21 meeting at City Hall.
As a consolation prize, commissioners did unanimously approve the Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR), which was considered as part of the presentation and discussion.
“Any proposal for utilization of this site as a commercial use is going to run into the same hurdles that we do,” said Dillon Tidwell, a principal with Hunt Real Estate who made Walgreens’ pitch to the Commission.
He added any developer who would ultimately be approved to develop the commercial space on the southeast corner of Pico Boulevard and Lincoln Boulevard would struggle to address every concern raised by city officials and residents alike. The biggest hurdles include the limited size of the zoned property and its location immediately adjacent to a busy intersection.
Tidwell added that while the FEIR pointed out 50 new net vehicle trips would be generated during P.M. peak hours, that would translate into just one additional automobile entering the intersection of Pico and Lincoln every two-and-a-half minutes. Accordingly, Tidwell did not believe Walgreens would substantially add new traffic to the area.
New traffic aside, there were serious concerns with respect to the parking lot. For example, there is no access to the center’s parking lot from Lincoln Boulevard. Accordingly, patrons would have to access it from Lincoln Court, which residents and commissioners thought would be difficult to do during rush hour traffic.
Even more, there was concern by local residents about deliveries being made to the store. According to the applicant, Walgreens would receive significant deliveries twice per week, in an alleyway less than 40 feet away from residences, as early as 6 a.m.
While Walgreens agreed to limit its store hours from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, it did maintain an option to eventually become a 24-hour facility should the store prove to be a “good neighbor.”
Finally, Walgreens had also agreed to forgo applying for an off-sale beer and wine conditional use permit (CUP), but the application was granted by City Hall without prejudice. Accordingly, Walgreens would also maintain an option to seek the off-sale beer and wine CUP again in the near future.
Interestingly, two establishments currently operate with off-sale beer and wine conditional use permits within 500 feet of where the new Walgreens would be located.
While traffic, parking, and the CUP all appeared to be worthy roadblocks to the development of the Walgreens at Lincoln and Pico, one resident who lives nearby said there was no need to bring the drugstore and pharmacy chain to the proposed area.
“Who in the neighborhood actually wants or needs this retail use project the report praises so glowingly,” Brian Moss rhetorically asked. “There are already five major supermarkets or drug stores between one-half and 1.3 miles away, as well as three small non-chain pharmacies within a half mile.”
Still, there were a few residents who were supportive of the addition of a Walgreens, so long as the parking and traffic issues were positively addressed.
Ultimately, Planning Commissioner Chair Jim Ries pointed out that with or without the Walgreens development, something had to be done to improve the aesthetic appearance of Lincoln Boulevard.
“What this (discussion of Walgreens) does is it really highlights the challenge of redeveloping Lincoln Boulevard, which is one of the most unattractive boulevards in the city (and) in the region,” he candidly stated. “We have significant challenges to try to find development that will work, that will be economically viable.”
In light of the Planning Commission’s inability to make any recommendations, Walgreens and the applicant – Hunt Real Estate – will have to return to City Hall again in the near future to discuss what changes, if any, must be made in order for the development to potentially move forward.
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