Development of a 20,000-square-foot Grocery Outlet store in Weaverville got a green light last week from the Trinity County Planning Commission that split 3-2 in approving the environmental analysis and conditional use permit for the project to move forward.

Located in the town’s commercial corridor at 1155 Main St./Highway 299 on property that is currently vacant, the new retail grocery store development plans drew several letters from members of the public both in support and opposed to the project.

A Planning Commission hearing on the project April 23 was continued without action to allow planning department staff more time to evaluate and respond to comments, and in hopes of scheduling an open public hearing that people could attend instead of the teleconference session that was plagued by technical difficulties.

The item was postponed to May 15, then again to May 28 and canceled each time. During the June 4 special meeting of the Planning Commission held by a Zoom conference, two commissioners (Graham Matthews and Diana Stewart) advocated for further continuance to allow more time for public input on what both called a major, significant development proposed for Weaverville.

However, a majority of three voted in support of the required environmental documentation and conditional use permit to let the applicant, Best Development Group, move forward with the project without further delay.

The property includes four parcels owned by Dana and Kimberly Ryan and the development includes a merger of three parcels and a lot line adjustment allowing for construction of the 20,000 square foot retail store on 2.2 acres. The property is zoned General Commercial, C-2 and surrounded on three sides by other C-2 parcels and Heavy Industrial/Manufacturing on the back side used for timber processing activities.

The business expects to employ 15 to 20 people. Access will be from Highway 299 and Levee Road, and the development will include 67 parking stalls plus four ADA stalls and a five-foot sidewalk, curb/gutter along the Highway 299 frontage and along Levee Road to the rear truck entrance behind the store. There’s also a landscape plan for 24,327 square feet of the property.Because the building will exceed 5,000 square feet and the zoning district’s maximum height of 25 feet, it requires a use permit under the county’s zoning ordinance. The proposed building will be 32 feet tall including all architectural elements.

Conditions included in the use permit approved by the Planning Commission last week include drainage and grading plans; external lighting that is shielded and downcast and turned off between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.; dust control measures during construction; and all Caltrans requirements for ingress/egress onto the state highway.

“We are a 75-year-old California based company that provides name brand products at reduced cost. In every location that I have opened stores, the community has been supportive. We’ll hire 20 employees, and each store is owned and operated by someone who lives in the community. We hire local and are engaged in local events, fundraisers and charities,” said Terry Johnson of the Best Development Group.

Many letters of support were submitted by area residents and others who enjoy shopping at other Grocery Outlet stores and said it will encourage more local shopping, generating more tax revenue for the county.

Others raised a variety of concerns ranging from traffic impacts on Highway 299 to urban blight and crime, suggesting that the appearance of a Grocery Outlet store will not improve or mesh with Weaverville’s historic character. Some argued for a pause in the permitting process due to the COVID-19 restrictions on public meetings, saying the public review and comment period was shortened due to Planning Department office closures in response to the coronavirus pandemic. At least one argued that a full Environmental Impact Report should have been prepared for the project instead of the mitigated negative declaration.

County Counsel Margaret Long said the public review period ran its course and although the office was advertised as closed to public traffic, the door was not locked, staff was working inside and people could arrange by appointment to review the environmental studies and present their concerns in person if they wished.

“Other than the applicant wants to forge ahead, I wonder why we can’t wait, especially now that things are starting to open up more. Not everyone is willing to make an appointment and it has been a difficult time. I don’t know why we have to push ahead and not give people a little more of a chance to comment,” said Commissioner Diana Stewart.

“A number of the comments are concerned about urban decay and we should address it,” said Commissioner Graham Matthews who added the pandemic situation “has clearly restricted public participation and knowledge of this project. We’re getting letters today and yesterday, some in support and some not. I tend to agree there’s no need to rush. It’s a significant decision for Weaverville and the county and the amount of public participation concerns me a lot.”

Commissioner Mike McHugh argued “there’s two sides to that. There’s the applicant. We can say there’s no urgency, but there is in their mind. They’d like to move ahead with their project and that does create some urgency to move the project forward.”

Commissioner Dan Frasier said he would also be inclined to wait until “we can have a meeting open to the public and let everyone come, but we could be months away from that. At some point, we have to move on with the business of the county. It is a major issue for people waiting to have their items heard.”

Stewart argued that’s true for smaller projects, but a Grocery Outlet “affects not just the neighborhood or block, but the entire town. For a project this large, public comment should have even more weight. I have very grave concerns about going ahead without more public comment on this.”

Commissioner Richard Hoard said he agrees with moving the project forward “because we do not know when we will be able to have a full meeting with everybody present.”

A motion to approve the mitigated negative declaration and use permit with conditions carried 3-2 with Stewart and Matthews opposed.

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