MORAGA -- This was the meeting planning commissioners were supposed to get clarifications they needed to decide the fate of a proposed Dollar Tree store.
But after nearly three hours of debate Tuesday night, the retailer's future in Moraga is cloudier than ever.
The board ultimately delegated the issue to a subcommittee to determine conditions for Dollar Tree's approval that a majority of the seven-member board could support. Commissioners Bruce Whitley and Dick Socolich were appointed to the subcommittee; the commission hears the matter again Sept. 20.
The Dollar Tree, a retail store in which every item costs $1 or less, applied in July to open in Moraga's struggling Rheem shopping center.
The application has sparked a heated debate in the small town, where many residents say Dollar Tree is inappropriate for the "semirural" community. Others counter that Moraga cannot pick and choose which stores it wants.
The commission deadlocked Tuesday after a straw poll showed two commissioners oppose the application outright, two support it and the other three are split over conditions for approval.
Responding to concerns about the store's outward appearance, the town's planning staff had added several conditions, including stipulations the store maintain a "showroom" rather than a more utilitarian "warehouse" display style, and that the store not block the front windows with shelving.
Whitley asked the matter be tabled again so staff can strengthen store appearance requirements.
Vice Chairman Russell Driver, who earlier had voiced his support for the application, said he was open to that idea. But Chairman Jim Obsitnik said he would not vote for any resolution that tried to govern the inside of a store.
"I don't think that's a role that we, the Planning Commission, play, that the town of Moraga government plays," he said.
The commission formally voted 5-2 to deny the application, but Planning Director Lori Salamack said the board needed to agree on and provide a specific reason for the denial. The commission couldn't do that, given the multitude of opinions on the application.
Commissioners Stacia Levenfeld and Roger Wycle said Dollar Tree could create an economic problem for the town by decreasing property values or negatively impacting nearby businesses. Saying he visited a Dollar Tree store in a "depressing" neighborhood in Oakland, Wycle said, "If that kind of neighborhood came to Moraga, that would certainly in my mind create an excessive public economic problem."
Socolich and Commissioner Tom Driver voted to approve the application.
Socolich said the market will determine whether or not Moragans are satisfied with the Dollar Tree.
"The store will be made or not made on the basis of whether or not (the owners) can draw people in there to shop," he said.
No representative of Dollar Tree attended Tuesday's meeting.