The Best Development Group seeking to build a 20,000-square foot Grocery Outlet store in Weaverville again received a green light for the project when the Trinity County Board of Supervisors last week unanimously denied an appeal of the county Planning Commission’s 3-2 vote on June 4 approving permits for the project to move forward.
Approved were a mitigated negative declaration addressing environmental impacts and a conditional use permit applying specific conditions to all aspects of the construction including parking, landscaping, drainage and lighting plans. The proposed project is located at 1155 Main St./Highway 299 on 2.2 acres of vacant property zoned General Commercial and surrounded by other commercial uses.
The two commissioners opposed argued that such a large project warranted additional review and public input they felt had been stymied by COVID-19 office and meeting closures.
The Planning Commission decision was appealed to the Board of Supervisors by a Trinity County for Small Business group represented by attorney Becky Diel of Stockton. She argued that the public review period for the project was insufficient because the county offices were closed to the public prior to the end of the 30-day review period. The closure notice was posted on the county website, but there was no mention of staff availability by appointment until June, well after the April 2 closing date for public review of the project documents.
Her second argument was that evidence was presented indicating that the project could result in urban decay such as closures of other small businesses and an increase in theft and other crimes including vandalism. Therefore, it warrants the preparation of a full Environmental Impact Report rather than a mitigated negative declaration.
Additional arguments were that the general public was excluded from the planning process as public hearings were held by video conference in which many on the phone lines were unable to participate. The county general plan was also unavailable online, so it was not possible for the public to inspect the project for compliance with the general plan.
The county Planning Department responded that the negative declaration was posted online for the entire public review period; the general plan was made available to the public via email and staff was available by appointment in the Planning Department office.
Regarding urban decay, the county’s response was that the California Environmental Quality Act does not require an economic impact analysis where there is no evidence that a project would result in any physical impacts to the environment.
Deputy Director Lisa Lozier added that the April 9 Planning Commission meeting was canceled, and the project was continued at the April 23 teleconference meeting. She acknowledged that was a difficult meeting, “but we learned from that and picked up on Zoom. We gave staff training and we made progress in our meetings after that. The June 4 meeting went very well, but it’s still not the same as public being able to attend. No one would say they don’t want public at public meetings, but this is the best we could come up with and we have taken steps to make sure we are as open as possible.”
She said the department had received numerous emails about the project, both in favor and opposed, “but none from people who felt they lacked access” or from anyone asking to see the general plan.
A Best Development Group partner, Terry Johnson, said “We’ve been at this for 18 months since submitting our application in January 2018, and dealing with COVID has made it even longer. We believe we’ve complied with every requirement of the county, all the studies and CEQA documents for our project.”
He said Grocery Outlet is a 75-year-old California based company that sells only name brand grocery products “at a much lower price point than traditional stores, primarily because we don’t carry as many products. They buy in bulk for their specific stores, and they are not exactly like any other market that’s here today.”
He added that “some local residents drive 47 miles east to shop in our west Redding store and there are dozens of posts in support of our project from people tired of driving that far. Grocery Outlet does not have a bakery, deli, Starbucks or restaurants. They are just product-driven. We have 340 stores, primarily on the West Coast, and each is operated by a local resident, involved in communities.”
Johnson said emails in support of the project outnumber those opposed.
“We’re not Dollar General. We are a grocery store carrying limited brand name products. That’s all. Our proposal is a permitted use under the existing zoning of the property. We agree to all 96 conditions of approval. We respectfully ask you to deny this appeal so we can move forward to open the store next summer,” he said.
The Board of Supervisors’ public hearing on the appeal last week drew a few comments, mostly in favor of the project. Dero Forslund of Weaverville said urban decay occurred in Weaverville “when the big box stores opened in Redding. We had three grocery stores and now we’re down to one. All did better when there was competition. It is the best way to avoid urban decay. I think this business will actually help.”
Dana Ryan, the seller of the property, said it “seems extreme to me what they’ve gone through. I see no grounds for appeal or any justification for it. It’s a time when we need to stimulate this economy and get some jobs going on. Don’t make it any harder. The stalling time isn’t for free. They are paying for extensions and attorneys. This will provide so much opportunity for people to stay and shop locally. This is new development and growth, the biggest thing I’ve seen in my 57 years here. Let’s get this project in 2021.”
Paul Hauser of Weaverville said he sees the project as a positive economic benefit overall that will provide additional tax base and jobs “that are desperately needed. And the biggest thing is it will keep more people in town for shopping instead of driving to WinCo for groceries and stopping at Home Depot and everywhere else on their way home and not at our local stores.”
Sup. John Fenley made a motion to deny the appeal, as recommended by Planning staff. Sup. Judy Morris commented “there is always a concern when a big project moves into our county. I owned Mamma Llama when Starbucks moved in and we thought for sure our doors would close. Grocery Outlet has a strong reputation, and I welcome them into my district. Given some of our not-so-great demographics here, a lot of people do travel to Redding for help on their food bill, and I think this will help those folks.”
The vote was unanimous, upholding the Planning Commission decision, affirming approval of the negative declaration and conditional use permit at the specified location.
County Counsel Margaret Long said the appellant still has the option of appealing the board’s decision to the court.