Planning Board offers conditional approvals for In-N-Out near Webster Tube

Planning Board offers conditional approvals for In-N-Out near Webster Tube

Michele Ellson
In-N-Out Burger

Alameda’s Planning Board unanimously approved a drive-through and late-night hours for an In-N-Out Burger near the foot of the Webster Tube on Monday – provided the city can win Caltrans’ approval for a crosswalk intended to protect pedestrians who might otherwise jaywalk into traffic exiting the tube.

The board also okayed a drive-through for a proposed Chase bank branch on the 2.3-acre “gateway” parcel and a new, 24-hour Safeway gas station that staffers have said is a prerequisite for the Pleasanton-based grocery chain planting a new store in the Alameda Landing development.

“This parcel was designed for drive-through banking, gas stations and drive-through eating,” said board member John Knox White, who argued for better pedestrian protections, particularly for the high school and college students nearby. Board members also noted that the decision to permit restaurants like In-N-Out on the site had already been made; only the gas station, drive-through lanes and extended hours were on the table, though an In-N-Out rep said the restaurant wouldn’t be built without a drive-through lane.

The board is expected to consider designs for the buildings – along with a renewed Safeway request to sell beer and wine at the gas station – at its next regularly scheduled meeting, on August 12.

Approval from Caltrans, if granted, could take months to win, the city’s lead traffic engineer said. Opponents could also appeal the Planning Board’s decision to the City Council, which would then have final say.

Some Bayport and West End residents spoke out against the In-N-Out Burger, saying they feared the traffic and crime they believe the restaurant would bring; most said they like In-N-Out, they just want it somewhere else. One West End resident presented a petition opposing the burger restaurant signed by more than 500 people, while a Bayport resident questioned whether the restaurant and gas station would impact home prices in that development, which is adjacent to the businesses being proposed.

Among the opponents was Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley, an Alameda resident who said the development and others proposed for the West End will create “horrendous” traffic. She questioned the potential crime that could occur at what she called the “nighttime focus” of the businesses setting up shop at what she said is an isolated site.

“Every city that surrounds Oakland is impacted by Oakland’s high crime,” said O’Malley, who said the number of robberies there has jumped 67 percent this year. “I urge you to not forget about the crime impact.”

But those arguments stirred resentment from other West End residents who have long felt that their half of the Island has gotten short shrift; they said they want the services and jobs the new businesses will bring, and they’re hopeful the businesses will be a draw for some of their East End neighbors.

“When we look at this, we’re looking at a huge economic opportunity that hasn’t been there since the Navy left. And it’s important for us to have access to the jobs that are going to be created out there,” said Doug Biggs of the Alameda Point Collaborative, which is home to 300 formerly homeless families.

It also seemed to stir concerns that race may be playing a role in opposition to the project.

West End community leader Nick Cabral said that most of the development projects proposed in recent years – including the main library, Alameda Theatre & Cineplex and Trader Joe’s – sparked fears about traffic and crime from off-Island residents but that those projects have been successful.

“They didn’t want Trader Joe, they didn’t want the library, because ‘those people’ are going to come. Well, I’m ‘those people,’” said Cabral, who is black.

Proponents and opponents also clashed over whether one of Alameda’s gateways was the proper place for the burger restaurant and a gas station, with opponents questioning whether their placement would send the wrong message to visitors and proponents saying the trees and other design features being proposed would be a welcome improvement.

“We’ve spent three years talking about the Park Street gateway. And now we’re forced to settle for this,” West End resident Karen Bey said. “We need to tell the story about what is wonderful about the West End, and this doesn’t do it.”

City staffers, meanwhile, noted that the project could generate close to $250,000 a year in sales taxes. In a recent op-ed, City Manager John Russo said the city’s financial future depends on reversing its “dangerously weak” sales tax take.

In addition to requiring a crosswalk to protect pedestrians who could otherwise jaywalk into traffic that flows without any controls onto Webster Street from the tube, the board also set a one-year review of their approvals to ensure that the crime and traffic issues are being addressed.

Planning Board member Mike Henneberry also asked that developer Catellus talk with the Alameda Police Department about locating a substation at the Alameda Landing development, which will include a Target-anchored shopping center and 276 homes in addition to the 2.3-acre parcel that was discussed Monday.

In other business, the board unanimously approved guidelines for parklets – mini-parks that are typically nestled into former parking spaces. The board removed a Transportation Commission-approved prohibition on parklets in residential areas.