Planning Commission votes to deny an appeal by a group opposed to a permit that would allow BevMo! to sell alcoholic beverages at an approved building site in the Lantern District
By Andrea Swayne
(updated June 18)
The Planning Commission voted Monday, June 8 to deny an appeal filed with the city of Dana Point opposing the granting of a conditional use permit to allow the sale of alcoholic beverages at a proposed Beverages & More (BevMo!) store in the Town Center-Lantern District.
The city received the appeal from Party Time Liquor store owners Mi and Yoon S. Lee on May 15, the last day of the 15-day appeals period. The store is located across the street from the proposed project.
Although the building and site plans for the property were previously approved by the former Planning Commission, and last considered as the potential site for a bank, the BevMo! plan conforms and qualifies for that previous approval, with the exception of alcohol sales, Community Development Director Ursula Luna-Reynosa said.
“There is a lot of untruthful information that has been circulated,” she began, addressing the planning commissioners. “And in an effort to ensure the record accurately reflects the facts, I have some information I want to share with you.”
Luna-Reynosa went on to tell the commissioners that the building site, layout and design had been approved in December 2014 by the past Planning Commission, and should BevMo! decide to proceed with their project, it would conform with the previously approved plans and elevations.
The approved plan calls for square footage of just under 5,000 and the building is over-parked per city parking code and some off-site parking spaces were included with the previous approval, she said.
BevMo! is proposing a small-format store that would include the sale of more than 300 types of cheeses, gourmet chocolate, stemware, pre-made sandwiches, party planning and wine tasting in addition to the sale of alcoholic beverages.
“It is within the parameters of the Town Center Plan as an allowed use, it is the sale of alcohol that requires the conditional use permit,” Luna-Reynosa said.
Per city code, the granting of a minor CUP for the sale of alcohol can—as in this case—be approved by the community development director.
The site is located at the Del Prado Avenue/Pacific Coast Highway “Y” intersection at the south end of the Town Center-Lantern District at what used to be a boat storage facility. It is currently vacant and non-operational although some items remain stored on-site.
“The building was more or less approved as a shell,” said Evan Langan, associate planner. “Because the final tenant wasn’t exactly known at the time, the building was designed and the site was planned to accommodate any of a range of potential uses.”
Included in the plan is onsite parking and the proposed use for a business such as BevMo! would require 16 parking spaces, per code, for this type of retail use. The site plan includes 20 spaces, as well as three offsite parking spots along PCH adjacent to the property.
The building would stand a little under 40 feet in height at its tallest point, a circular design element, but as a single-story building the majority of the structure would stand at 20 feet or less. Signage for the building has not yet been approved, Langan said.
“When the concept of signage for the building is complete, it will be submitted to staff and then ultimately presented to you in the form of a sign program permit,” Langan told the commissioners.
Luna-Reynosa added that BevMo! has indicated a willingness to conform to the city’s wishes for signage befitting a pedestrian-friendly, traditional downtown area, rather than that of a typical retail center.
Langan explained that in order to approve a CUP staff must make seven findings qualifying an application’s approval. Conversely, in order to deny a CUP, findings would also need to be made for it to be denied. Under these guidelines the CUP application qualified for approval.
“The project was found to comply with the Town Center Plan,” Langan said, recommending the commissioners uphold the CUP approval and deny the appeal.
Luna-Reynosa reminded the commissioners that the Dana Point Municipal Code does not consider potential economic impacts or competition of proposed business development and in making their decision they should only consider whether it is an allowed use.
Commissioner April O’Connor, who along with Commissioner Liz Claus, were the only two of the five-member panel who were a part of the previous commission that approved the building, asked if deliveries would be made at curb cuts adjacent to the site and how they would be carried out.
“A condition of approval requires that deliveries before 7 a.m. must enter the site and exit the site in a forward-facing fashion, to prevent the back-up beeping noise trucks make.
Attorney John Cha spoke on behalf of the appellants, Party Time Liquor owners Mi and Yoon S. Lee, questioning why, although the prior approval was for a new bank and Langan said the tenant had not been finalized, would there not be need to reconsider the entire application, as BevMo! and a bank are two “very distinct entities.”
“Perhaps the Planning Commission, in December of 2014, may have not had all the information that is relevant today,” Cha said. “The sense that I get from the director of the Community Development Department is that in making an administrative decision for a minor conditional use permit, it’s being done on a very rote basis—meaning if the Municipal Code says I should do it, then I will do it. But if the Municipal Code doesn’t say I have to do it, then it is not done. What that does is take away the director’s discretionary authority … to apply the process in a way that is fair and takes into consideration the sentiment of the community … the impact to the community.”
Cha said Luna-Reynosa’s comment about economic competition matters not being addressed within the Municipal Code does not fly, in his opinion.
“That doesn’t mean you can’t consider it,” Cha said. “Just because it isn’t there doesn’t mean you are blind to it, or that you should be blind to it, because that also is a part of the discretionary authority, or the ability to assess beyond the four corners of the Municipal Code.”
The consideration of the proximity between BevMo! and existing businesses is another area Cha said he feels should be considered, despite its absence from the code. Other items he felt were not taken into consideration, but should have been, include an obligation to create a balanced mix of land-use that is consistent with the city’s long-range goals for the area and strengthen city identity.
Greg Endom of BevMo! responded by reminding the commissioners that the hearing is only about the CUP for the sale of alcoholic beverages, as the building plans are done, and that his company’s stores are different from the classic definition of a “liquor store” due to their product selection.
“There’s a lot of things we refuse to carry,” Endom said. “We don’t sell cigarettes. We don’t sell fortified wines, we don’t sell half-pints. We don’t sell magazines … any type of adult literature. We really specialize in wines, spirits, beers … People don’t come to BevMo! to buy their everyday wine with dinner … They come to BevMo! for special occasions.”
Endom said their product selection—roughly 1,000 spirits, 900 imported and craft beers and 3,000 wines—is something they’ve researched extensively and offers something not offered in the communities they operate in.
“I guarantee that whether it’s at Ralphs or my friends at Party Time … you’re not going to find that selection in their store,” Endom said. “They sell a lot of other things that we don’t offer in our store, so when we talk about competition … that comes clearly through in the appellant’s statement … there’s probably over half of the 11 items he sites … as competition … most of which we don’t sell … rolling papers … Lotto … bait and tackle … pet food … cleaning supplies … health and beauty aids. That’s not our business. We are the largest retailer of fresh caviar in the state of California … we do sell glassware … have educational wine tastings … So this notion that BevMo!’s coming to town and their going to put Ralphs and Party Time out of business … I don’t wish that on anybody but we’re not that good. We are going to fill a niche.”
BevMo! is aware of over $1 million worth of business from people who live in the Dana Point zip code who are driving to their Laguna Niguel store, he said.
“This is what we call leakage,” Endom said. “They are not finding what they need in town … which is not an easy or convenient drive.”
He went on to list other reasons BevMo! is a responsible retailer—not hiring anyone under 21, using a secret shopper “sting” program similar to that of the ABC to ensure all customers’ IDs are checked, ID scanners to eliminate fraud and not allowing children who are not accompanied by someone over 21 into the store.
Cha rebutted Endom’s comments adding to his argument that his client and those joining in the opposition had submitted over 1,800 signatures on a petition opposing BevMo!
The public comments portion of the meeting included one member of the public speaking out for BevMo! and about a dozen against.
Included in the agenda packet for the meeting were written letters on the issue sent to City Hall—13 were opposed to BevMo! and nine were in favor. Among the people who sent written correspondence, was Infinity Surfboards co-owner Dave Boehne who said he would welcome the addition of the store to the neighborhood.
Advanced Dermatology, the business next door to the proposed BevMo! site, submitted a request for denial of the permit.
Project developer Pat Patterson said he and his clients, the Ware family, are excited to be ready to begin construction and are happy with the building design and think it will be a good addition to Dana Point.
“Dana Point is spending millions (of dollars) to beautify … so why would we want to highlight a discount liquor store as one of the main attractions of Dana Point,” resident Gail Benda asked.
Resident Penny Maynard spoke in favor of granting the CUP.
“I know the city and I know the city government and I have complete faith that they will not have some flashy chain big box,” Maynard said. “It’s silly when you hear (it will be) 5,000 (square feet) as opposed to the size of Walmart … you can’t call them both big box. I hope BevMo! is built. We need people to come downtown. This is a draw and it will help all the other businesses and retail the city hopes to attract.”
Glen Ornsef, president of the Lantern Bay Villas Homeowners Association (across the street from the site) told the commissioners, “Legally you can do this … the question is should you do it.” He went on to point out the problem with the adjacent recycling center behind Ralphs being a hangout for homeless and/or addicted people as another reason for denial of the CUP.
Others referred to BevMo! as an assault on community character and culture as well as a potential cause of unwanted traffic problems.
Commissioner O’Conner asked Endom what classifies a big box store and how the company plans to fit it into the 4,900-square-foot building.
Endom called the concept a refinement of an old business model, a boutique-style store they have been successful with in places such as San Jose, Solana Beach, La Jolla and about five others on the drawing board.
Commissioner Claus said she was not convinced that BevMo! is the “devil incarnate” as it had been referred to in public comments.
“I’m not convinced that it is going to be terrible for the city,” Claus said. “BevMo! could jumpstart the Lantern District.”
“Just because a lot of people don’t want something, doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing,” Commissioner Eric Nelson said, reiterating that the panel’s decision is limited only to the CUP. “The building will suit the community well …”
The commissioners voted 4-1, with Scott McKhann absent, to approve the CUP for BevMo!
IS IT A FIT AESTHETICALLY, ECONOMICALLY?
Luna-Reynosa later revisited the information she referred to in the meeting as being circulated in the public via social media and campaign-style signs and posters, as misleading. The misinformation, she said, centers on the store’s retail offerings—products not found at a typical liquor/convenience store—the look of the building and the store signage.
The specialty and gourmet offerings BevMo! carries align with the 2004 market demand study—completed as part of the Town Center Plan—that showed such a retail outlet to be a good use for the area, and the signage being shown on anti-BevMo! literature is inaccurate, she said.
“A mocked-up photo simulation showing a box building with a pylon sign and other inappropriate signage—which would not be permitted under our sign code—is being circulated to intentionally mislead the public as to the design aesthetics of the approved building,” Luna-Reynosa said. “Staff has worked closely with the developer to ensure that the building, at this critical juncture, is of a quality design with four-sided architecture and elegant materials and finishes influenced by the Spanish Revival architecture exhibited in historic buildings in town of the Sydney Woodruff era.”
The single-story building of less than 5,000 square feet, she said, will have what she called “an attractive rotunda element” to accent the building’s architecture.
“Attractive and high quality buildings will be one of the most important elements to influence perceptions and shape experiences of those visiting the Lantern District as buildings endure time while tenants come and go,” she added. “I think it is important that the public and decision makers are provided factual information to influence their opinions and decisions as opposed to the current misinformation that is being circulated.”
A rendering is in process that incorporates all the design elements for the store, and once completed, will be made available for public viewing.
The public has the option to appeal the Planning Commission’s decision to the City Council.