A group of Alhambra residents has submitted letters to the city's Planning Division, questioning the traffic and environmental impact, as well as the zoning rules, for a planned Lowe's Home Improvement complex on South Fremont Ave.
The site of the proposed development is north of West Mission Road on South Freemont, which is already well known for its daily traffic gridlock.
Sitting on 12.66 acres, the Alhambra Court Commercial Development, as the project is officially titled, would include a "134,417 square-foot Lowe’s home improvement store which includes a 23,160 square-foot garden center, a six-level parking structure; and two, six-story office buildings that will have a combined floor area of approximately 245,400 square feet," as the project's initial study describes itself.
The West Hollywood-based Charles Company is listed as the site's developer. The company has donated to the campaigns of at least two current Alhambra city council members.
In their letters to the Planning Division, opponents of the development say that this development will create even more traffic. One critic, Ranajit Sahu, an environmental engineer, questioned the traffic study that the city conducted.
Sahu in his letter asked why the traffic study conducted for the proposed development used traffic generated by a Lowe's superstore in Poway, California, rather than the standard set by the International Transportation Engineers' Trip Generation Manual, which many cities use to estimate traffic from proposed developments.
"Due to improper and unsupported assumptions made regarding nature of the proposed project, the Traffic Study consciously significantly underestimates the number of additional trips that will be generated as a result of the proposed project," Sahu wrote.
The traffic study
, prepared by Kimley-Horn and Associates, justified using data collected from the Poway Lowe's, because it was a "similar site" to the proposed Alhambra Lowe's in size and location.
The report also criticized the International Transportation of Engineers’ estimates, which the report says are based on traffic to stores like Home Depot. The report argued that Home Depot was geared toward small contractors who contribute to typical peak traffic times, and that Lowe’s is more for homeowners who tend to shop on the weekends.
Sahu's letter asked for additional evidence to prove that this distinction between Lowe's and Home Depot is valid. The comparison is especially contentious since Alhambra already has Home Depot on South Marengo Avenue, almost a mile away from the proposed Lowe's site.
Grassroots Alhambra founder Eric Sunada* also submitted a letter questioning whether Lowe's proposed site is zoned for a big-box retail store like this one. According to the City of Alhambra Zoning Map
, the site falls within the city's Industrial Planned Development zone. Sunada's letter claims that building a Lowe's would violate the city's ordinance on IPD zones
, which permits retail stores on a conditional basis, when only 25 percent of "gross floor area" is devoted to it.
According to the initial study
, 8.84 of the Alhambra Court development's 12.66 acres would be for Lowe's retail, well over 25 percent of floor space.
Sunada also questioned a 2010 interpretation by former Development Services Director James Funk of the industrial zoning ordinance, who said that the Alhambra Municipal Code permits "building materials sales and/or home improvement supplies sales" in IPD zones. This interpretation was unanimously ratified by the City Council.
Residents have also criticized the lack of Environmental Impact Report for a project as big as the Lowe's development. According to the Lowe’s project’s initial study, from 1963 to 2009, International Extrusion Corporation owned the site
and used it for aluminum manufacturing, resulting in groundwater and soil contamination. The report detailed the efforts of N&N engineering to remove the contaminated soil at 20 feet below ground level. Critics said they are concerned that remaining chemicals known as chlorinated volatile organic compounds will get into the new buildings' air and put people’s health at risk, in a process known as vapor intrusion.
The development's initial study included a Mitigated Negative Declaration
, which typically justifies a development not needing an Environmental Impact Report
, if the initial study finds that there would be no significant environmental effects from it. This initial study, which Blodgett Baylosis Environmental Planning prepared for Alhambra's Development Services Department, said that environmental impacts would be reduced by taking steps to prevent groundwater contamination, among other "mitigation measures."
Part of the Mitigated Negative Declaration includes a requirement to install a vapor barrier and vent system under the new buildings. In a letter to the Planning Division, Lenny Siegel, an environmental activist who founded the Center for Public Environmental Oversight, and recipient of the Environmental Protection Agency’s “2011 Citizen Excellence in Community Involvement” award, proposed additional measures, including indoor air sampling, a contingency plan if high levels of vapor intrusion are detected and the sealing of elevator shafts to prevent the spread of toxic chemicals through vapor intrusion.
The planning commission is set to vote on this project at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, January 17. Planning commission approval is final, unless residents file an appeal, in which case the appeal goes to the city council. Residents can also email their comments to Tonya Pace, Alhambra's planning commission secretary and director of development services, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Residents can read all letters discussed in this article in full below.
*Eric Sunada has contributed in the past to the Alhambra Source, and sits on the newspaper's advisory board.
Ron Sahu's letter on Lowe's development traffic impact study on Scribd
Eric Sunada letter to planning commission on zoning of Lowe's Project on Scribd