The website for supermarket chain Fresh & Easy is all sunshine and smiles, with photos of cheerful employees and phrases like “a good neighbor.” But some Monterey residents who live on quiet Helvic Avenue just behind a proposed Fresh & Easy site on Del Monte Boulevard are more gloom-and-doom about the 10,550-square-foot market.
“People will use Helvic as a shortcut to get to the store,” says Sophia Gaura. She lives in the Villa Del Monte apartment complex behind the parking lot of the former Del Monte Gardens skating rink, which will be demolished to make way for the new market if the City Council approves Fresh & Easy’s use permit at its Dec. 6 meeting.
Noise hasn’t been an issue since the rink closed its doors in July, but Gaura’s worried about the din of delivery trucks, a shortage of parking and the potential danger of increased traffic that could accompany a grocery store.
“We have people on this street who are elderly and don’t move well, and there’s an elementary school down the street,” Gaura says, referring to the new Bay View Academy K-5 charter school, which has a student drop-off area on Helvic.
A gate on Helvic that leads into the rink’s parking lot is only permitted as an entry for patrons of Rising Star Gymnastics, one of several businesses adjacent to the Fresh & Easy site. But Gaura and other neighbors say – or show through shaky YouTube videos – numerous cars use the gate as an exit too, avoiding Del Monte’s faster-moving traffic. Fresh & Easy patrons, they argue, would do the same.
The Helvic Avenue Neighbors Coalition, led by Jason Maas-Baldwin and Gordon Smith, presented petitions with more than 133 signatures to the city Planning Commission this fall, requesting denial of Fresh & Easy’s use permit unless store traffic is barred from using Helvic as an access point. “We strongly believe that commercial traffic should not be routed through residential neighborhoods,” the petition states.
Monterey Senior Planner Forrest Ebbs admits the city can’t easily enforce the Helvic gate’s limited-use policy, but he cites recent traffic and parking studies that predict Fresh & Easy will have minimal impact on nearby streets and intersections. The Planning Commission requested those studies after raising traffic and noise concerns at its July meeting.
In an Aug. 4 letter to Monterey planner Kim Cole, Seaside Senior Planner Rick Medina expressed concern about the store’s traffic impacts on his city’s strip of Del Monte, less than a half-mile from the site. In particular, he cited a statement by Monterey planning staff that replacing the skating rink with a grocery store would reduce the overall number of trips to and from the site.
Medina now says he’s satisfied with Monterey’s updated studies.
Meanwhile, Seaside’s plans for a Fresh & Easy in its City Center retail complex have been stalled since 2008. Developer Patrick Orosco, who was working with Fresh & Easy on the deal, says he’s heard no recent updates from store reps, but is still open to a grocery store in the complex on Fremont Boulevard and Obama Way.
“Seaside’s ripe for a full market,” Orosco says.
Fresh & Easy spokesman Brendan Wonnacott says the chain has moved on from its Seaside plans, but has been considering Monterey as a store location since before the City Center deal fell apart. “Our stores serve their immediate neighborhoods,” Wonnacott says. “Having a store in Monterey would not preclude having a store in Seaside.”
The Monterey store could break ground as early as February.