"Eagerly anticipated" is not the first phrase that comes to mind for Menlo Park residents contemplating the next City Council meeting.
Yet it may have applied on Nov. 9, when residents filled the council chambers to see whether the council would uphold the Planning Commission's decision to let Beverages & More (BevMo) open a store in a spot that has sat empty for 18 months in the strip mall at 700 El Camino Real, which also houses Staples and Big 5.
The council voted 3-2 in favor of BevMo, with Kelly Fergusson and Heyward Robinson dissenting on the grounds that another liquor store would not be a convenience for city residents, given the Safeway right across the street and the total 17 liquor stores already in Menlo Park.
The stack of comment cards from people wanting to speak at the meeting equaled two-and-a-half hours of public comments, according to the city clerk, with several speakers sporting "No on BevMo" lapel stickers.
A binder holding all of the correspondence received from residents about the store, provided by city staff, looked five inches thick, with the majority opposing BevMo.
City Attorney Bill McClure explained the council could consider only whether the store would provide a public convenience or necessity, and whether a liquor store would be an appropriate use of the site regardless of who the applicant was.
Resident Maureen Hogan, who had filed the appeal of the Planning Commission's decision, presented a succinct argument for denial based on lack of need and convenience, but in the end failed to sway a majority of the council.
"The staff report said 1,500 Menlo Park residents have a BevMo card. So they're already traveling to a BevMo store. How can we argue it's not more convenient for those people to get it locally? Of course it's convenient to be able to have your choice of stores and products," Vice Mayor John Boyle said.
The approval included a request by Councilman Andy Cohen for a review of the store's use permit after two years, one year sooner than the Planning Commission had requested.
No problem, said Jeff Sealy, BevMo's vice president of real estate, who also agreed a few minutes later that miniature "airplane" bottles of liquor would be kept in locked display cases instead of next to the checkout line after Councilman Robinson, who waved an airplane bottle of alcohol that he'd bought for 99 cents at a local BevMo, mentioned that he found the appeal to "one for the road" impulse buys worrisome.
Robinson also requested that BevMo not sell caffeinated alcoholic beverages in Menlo Park.