The Alhambra City Council voted unanimously on Monday night to allow the Lowe's development on Fremont Avenue to move forward, despite an appeal mounted by concerned residents about the potential environmental and traffic impacts of the development.
The city council voted to deny the appeal, while adding the condition that the Charles Company, which is developing Lowe's and two office buildings at the site, help fund a shuttle service from the Gold Line to the office buildings that would be on the same site as the Lowe's store. This condition was put forth by third district councilmember Jeff Maloney.
In January, the planning commission approved a permit for the Lowe's development.
Presenting on behalf of those who filed the appeal, Dr. Ron Sahu, an environmental engineer and longtime Alhambra resident, contended that this project would have major environmental and traffic consequences, and should therefore be subjected to a full environmental impact report, rather than a mitigated negative declaration.
Marc Blodgett, whose firm put together the Mitigated Negative Declaration, said that the Lowe's project did not need an EIR, because it would not have significant environmental impact, due to the mitigation measures that the Charles Company would put in place. Said measures would be taken to mitigate additional traffic caused by the project, while on the environmental side, an underground barrier would be constructed to prevent the vapor intrusion of chemicals from contaminated soil on the site, when it was occupied by a foundry.
The claim over whether Lowe's catered to a different customer than Home Depot was debated throughout the night. Sahu pointed out that both stores sold similar products and offered similar services, saying that they were about as different McDonald's and Jack in the Box.
George Ray, a represenative for the developer, claimed that the larger presence of day laborers at Home Depot showed that this chain was more for contractors than Lowe's is. There's currently a Home Depot one-mile from the Lowe's site in Alhambra.
The Kimley-Horn representative also said that Poway was chosen because like the Lowe's in Alhambra. it wouldn't share its driveways with other stores, thus allowing them to generate more accurate estimates of traffic in and out of the development once it was built. Sahu said that such a factor was "less important" for estimating traffic.
"It was done to underestimate traffic," Sahu said.
Sahu also claimed that a proposed vapor barrier would exacerbate vapor intrusion, by pushing the toxic volatile organic compounds from the soil and out into nearby neighborhoods, rather into the atmosphere. Derek Breed, an environmental engineer who was working on the vapor barrier, clarified that the site would also have a "passive venting system," or a network of pipes through which any toxic vapor would run alongside the buildings and get pushed out into the atmosphere, rather than into residential areas.
George Ray, who led the presentation for the Charles Company, also reiterated that it had agreed to close off part of Meridian Avenue, between Emery Park and the project site, as an additional measure to reduce traffic around the new Lowe's. The planning commission had made this measure a condition of approval. He said that the Charles Company would cooperate with any additional effort to assess the impact of closing Meridian Avenue. City Attorney Joseph Montes clarified that the developer would have to pay for such a process, and that the City Council had the ultimate say on the closure.
Ray also said that Lowe's would bring in jobs with good pay and health care benefits, as well as sales tax revenue for Alhambra.
Resident and City Council views
During public comment, residents spoke out about issues ranging from the potentially increasing traffic to what they characterized as a lack of transparency and public participation in how the City of Alhambra took the Lowe's development through the planning process.
"When I heard there was a Lowe's coming into town, I was thrilled," said Alhambra resident Oscar Amaro. "What this is about is the feeling among the majority of residents that projects and developments–either as a result of poor planning, arrogance or deceit–are continuously rampant in communities throughout our city, destroying single-family neighborhoods, and creating the high density and horrendous traffic conditions that we find ourselves in today."
"The fact that they cleaned up the site and want to put a new development there is fantastic for the city," said another resident, Michael Placido, who also welcomed the competition for Home Depot, and the opportunity for increased sales tax revenue.
Chamber of Commerce members Sharon Gibbs and Evike Chang also spoke in favor of the development.
Multiple city council members spoke out in support of the project before voting. Maloney said that the major issue with the development came down to traffic, and that the Charles Company partially funding a Gold Line shuttle would help with that.
"If we can remove some of those additional bodies and maybe others from the neighborhood from Fremont on a daily basis, I think that's a very positive thing for this project to have," Maloney said.