The Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council voted, 14-1, to write a letter to the associate zoning administrator of the Los Angeles Department of City Planning opposing a proposal to build a 7-Eleven store on York Boulevard that sells beer and wine and operates outside the hours of 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.
The vote by the ERNC board on Tuesday night had two abstentions, and it followed a prolonged, one-hour 10-minute discussion that dominated the meeting at Eagle Rock City Hall. (Stay tuned for our story about a separate discussion on massage parlors in Eagle Rock.)
The ERNC’s decision comes 12 days after the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council's Land Use Committee recommended a conditional approval of the proposed 7-Eleven as the key tenant in commercial center that would be located at 4515-4527 E. York Blvd. and 1507 N. Tonawanda Ave., in the premises of the former Casa Princesa café, which doubled as a Sign-A-Rama store.
On Jan. 30, City of Los Angeles Associate Zoning Administrator Fernando Tovar postponed a public hearing about the planned 7-Eleven for lack of necessary outreach about the venture by the developers.
Backers of the proposed 7-Eleven are going to reapply next week to Tovar’s office, focusing solely on the application of the proposed convenience store rather than on the entire shopping center.
“We are going to fine-tune the site plan and re-notice and re-submit to the City next week,” said Tom Bergerson, a retail architect who has been liaising with city authorities on behalf of 7-Eleven. Bergerson said 7-Eleven would also contact TERA, Occidental College and the chambers of commerce in Eagle Rock as well as Highland Park as part of the corporate chain’s outreach efforts.
“We’ll reach out again to the neighborhood associations, but they meet on the same day as the Land Use Committee meets for you,” Bergerson said referring to the ERNC’s Land Use Committee. “In the past they’ve said that there’s a conflict of interest—they’ll take care of the recommendations to the city.”
Chad Warren, an associate of the key consultant for the project, David Degan, said he had met with business owners and residents in the vicinity of the proposed shopping center last Friday as well Monday this week.
“What I found was that probably 99.9 percent of the people I talked to love the idea of the [shopping] center of the 7-Eleven,” Warren said, adding that he had obtained signatures of support from 17 people, including the head of Sparkletts across the street, although he acknowledged that none of the nearby residents were willing to sign their names because they didn’t want to create any conflict in the neighborhood.
Jason Novotny, a project management consultant working for 7-Eleven, reiterated Bergerson's main proposal about giving a facelift to the former Casa Princesa building where the convenience store is planned before beginning work on two other buildings to the west, which, along with the 7-Eleven, would be part of a proposed shopping center.
The most significant opposition to the 7-Eleven came from Occidental College, whose director of communications, Jim Tranquada, made the following remarks before the ERNC board:
“This is an unfortunate situation. Like the rest of the community, Occidental looks forward to welcoming appropriate, new commercial development on York—we all look forward to the revitalization of the Boulevard. The college understands that 7-Eleven is the anchor tenant of a larger proposed development. The college understands that there’s a direct link between financing for the project as a whole and the liquor licensing for the 7-Eleven. But this would be the fifth liquor license within a three-block stretch of York Boulevard—a retail outlet that would be open 24 hours a day. We don’t believe that’s an appropriate use within walking distance of the college campus. We appreciate the efforts of the proponent to develop some additional conditions to try to address the concerns of the community, and we also appreciate the conditions put forward by Michael Tharp of the Land Use Committee at last week’s meeting. But we don’t believe that these conditions are adequate to address the presence of yet another liquor license on the boulevard. So the college regretfully opposes the conditional use permits that would allow liquor sales and a 24-hour operation.
Eagle Rock resident John Goldfarb told the meeting that he has had a change of heart regarding the project. “At first I thought that anything that would go up on York and Tonawanda would be better than what’s there now because I realize it’s very blighted, I am now against the 7-Eleven going in there.” The main reason for his opposition, Goldfarb said, was a letter that Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck wrote to the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control in May 2012, opposing the proposed 7-Eleven.
Yet more forceful opposition to the project came from the Highland Park Chamber of Commerce, whose representative, Margaret Arnold, said:
“This has been a really hard one for us because what’s there now is ugly, it is a nuisance, but we’ve had to come down in the long run in opposition to this 7-Eleven going in there. We already have coffee in the neighborhood and we don’t need alcohol. Tonawanda, we are afraid, would become a conduit between Occidental and the 7-Eleven. It’s too narrow for increased car traffic, it’s too dark for foot traffic. It would be a very unsafe activity. And most of all we feel that a 7-Eleven and the other businesses that we’re hearing about going in there are just not in keeping with the character of York Boulevard. York was once the place to see and be seen—it had ice cream and gift shops. It’s been a really sad situation over a couple of decades—and now it’s coming back. We have small business owners who are taking the chance and making that happen, and those are the people who we need to be really supportive of as chamber of commerce members and community members.
Mo Oxford, captain of the Neighborhood Watch committee on Alumni Avenue, accused 7-Eleven of “targeting campuses for alcohol sales.” Such development is “not what we want—this is not in keeping with the character of my community,” she said.
LAPD Sgt. Fernando Carrasco, head of the Northeast Community Station’s vice unit, asked the developers if they could open a 7-Eleven without a liquor license.
“It would be a dry 7-Eleven,” interjected ERNC President Michael Nogueira. “That’s what they call it.”
Carrasco said that he brought up the idea of a dry 7-Eleven because there’s one on Glendale Boulevard and Alvarado Street in Echo Park that has been in business for about six months after the LAPD opposed granting it a liquor license.
7-Eleven’s project management consultant Novotny, who had earlier read out a 22-point list of “Applicant-Volunteered Site-Specific Conditions For Conditional Use Permit” for selling wine and beer in the planned 24-hour store as part of 7-Eleven’s reapplication to the city’s planning department—including alcohol sales from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.—responded that while the store could indeed be dry, “7-Eleven’s intention is to obtain the alcohol use [permit] for beer and wine.”
Nogueira asked the LAPD’s vice squad head if there’s any stipulation that the 7-Eleven in Echo Park could return to the planning process after a year and reapply for a liquor license.
“I got a call from Zoning and they said that they’d look into the matter in five years from now,” Carrasco said.
ERNC Land Use Committee chair Oren Bitan said that his committee, which recently imposed some conditions on 7-Eleven, generally supports the project as it is depicted in the developers’ renderings of the shopping center.
ERNC Vice President David Greene asked 7-Eleven consultant Degan if there are any guarantees that the project’s developers would build a shopping center, as depicted in their renderings, if the ERNC approved the 7-Eleven’s proposal to remain open 24 hours and permitted to sell beer and wine from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
“I can assure you that it’s in the interests of the developer is to build the rest of the center, if there’s financing,” replied Degan, who has stressed in previous meetings that without the proposed 7-Eleven, the shopping center project would fall apart.
He added later, in response to a question from ERNC Sub-District 2 Director Kerry Tribe, that if the developer fails to get financing for a 7-Eleven, the only option “at this point” would be to lease the space out to a Coin Laundry business.
“We’ve had tenants who have contacted us, saying they want to pay 50 cents a square foot or $900 a month—how can the developer survive on $900 a month,” Degan explained, adding that the maximum lease offer that the developer has got so far is $1.25 per square foot.
Degan declined to specify, for reasons of client confidentiality, how much 7-Eleven was prepared to pay per square foot, but he said it would be “significantly more” than the offers the developer has received so far.
Tribe told Degan that a visual artist she didn’t find much in the proposed development that’s compelling. “It’s gonna sound corny but I also am quite moved by these arguments to make decisions out of hope rather than fear,” she said.
“And so, when I hear that there’s nothing else that can be done or we need this anchor tenant in order to secure financing, as sympathetic as I am to the work that you’ve put in, I guess I feel like going forward with this is making a decision out of fear.”