Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Concord approves Lowe's shopping center after two years of debate

By Tanya Rose


CONCORD — City leaders on Monday approved a long-controversial Wal-Mart shopping center — but without the Wal-Mart.

After two years of applications, appeals and emotional hand-wringing, the Concord City Council approved what is now called the Lowe's shopping center, to be on 28 acres along Arnold Industrial Way.

The presence of a 24-hour Wal-Mart stalled the plans last year, when the council voted against the project because of traffic and crime they feared the retail giant would bring.

But city leaders said they recognize a need for shopping options in North Concord, and the plans went through on Monday. It will be the first shopping center of its kind in that part of town — something sorely needed in the sparsely developed industrial area between Highways 4 and 242. Residents there had wanted the 24-hour Wal-Mart — somewhere they could go to grab laundry detergent or other necessities without driving a long distance.

There will be a 137,000-square-foot Lowe's home improvement store on the site, along with 10,000 square feet of space for two restaurants or retail shops. A 155,000-square-foot building, a slightly smaller version of what would have been Wal-Mart, doesn't have a tenant now, but landowner Lowe's is looking for one. In the past, city planner Frank Abejo has said the developer hopes to get Costco to sign on, or perhaps Target.

Resident Howard Jenkins Advertisementspoke on Monday in favor of the center.

"I've watched the uglification of the property for years," said Jenkins, who owns land nearby.

"It's been an ugly mess. And I'm looking forward to this."

The center will bring the city $430,900 in sales tax revenue.

Councilwoman Laura Hoffmeister wanted — and got — assurances that, after the council approved the plans, Lowe's wasn't planning on signing Wal-Mart on as a tenant.

"I just want to make sure that it comes back to us for approval when that tenant is chosen, so Wal-Mart can't just use this as a way to come in through the back door," she said.

She also worried about the lack of plans to expand Arnold Industrial Way. Traffic will be an issue there, she said, especially when the nearby Concord Naval Weapons Station land is developed years from now. She voted for the project anyway, however, but insisted at the very least that more accommodations be made for bus service.

Councilman Mark Peterson said he was disappointed that Lowe's wasn't planning on installing solar panels on the roof, like the store in Antioch. But it turns out that Pacific Gas & Electric installed the Antioch roof at little or no cost to Lowe's, which can't afford to pay the $4 million it would take to do this in Concord.

Peterson insisted that Lowe's talk with PG&E about doing this. A Lowe's representative said the company would work on that.

And Peterson then voted with Hoffmeister, Councilman Guy Bjerke and Councilwoman Helen Allen for the approval. Mayor Bill Shinn was absent.

Lowe's bought the land last year from the Winton Jones family of Concord after the Wal-Mart plans fell through.

At the time, Maureen Rich, a Lowe's spokeswoman, said it's not uncommon for Lowe's to own and operate an entire site.

Last year, Peterson and Shinn supported the project, even with Wal-Mart, saying it would provide shopping options in that area of town.

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