New Safeway on College green-lighted, designs revealed

A bird's-eye view of plans for a new Safeway on College Avenue. See the full set of streetscapes here. (It's a large file that may take some time to load.) Source: Lowney Architecture

A bird’s-eye view of plans for a new Safeway to be built on College Avenue at Claremont Avenue in Oakland, just over the Berkeley border. See the full set of streetscape renderings here. (It’s a large file that may take some time to load.) Source: Lowney Architecture

A new Safeway grocery store and retail development planned for College and Claremont avenues has gotten the nod from Oakland officials after seven long years in the making, and a hard-won community consensus on the heels of steep resistance from many residents.

The Oakland City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to deny a neighborhood appeal against the project, after representatives from several community groups reached an agreement with the grocery store company earlier this week. (The appeal could not simply be withdrawn, despite the signed agreement, due to procedural rules, city staff said.)

The settlement agreement over the particulars of the College Avenue Safeway project resulted from several intensive mediation sessions, run by Oakland Councilwoman Jane Brunner, between Safeway and neighborhood reps over the past five weeks. The sessions came about in the face of a possible lawsuit from community members who opposed aspects of the development that had been approved by the Oakland Planning Commission.

Tuesday night’s presentation to the Oakland City Council and public comment period lasted for about 30 minutes, and was capped off by cheers and clapping following the vote to move the project forward.

Representatives from both sides said the final project was not exactly what they wanted, but most said the result would be a better fit for the neighborhood than an earlier version. Several residents continued to register concerns during the public comment period.

Architect Ken Lowney called the last five weeks “enthralling,” requiring long days of work, including weekends, to come up with all new designs in time for Tuesday’s meeting.

“It was asked if we could pull this off last time we met,” he told the council. “I wasn’t really sure, but we did it.” He said the project would be a “great community benefit” with an “awesome public plaza” including seating, bike parking and “space for people to do what they want to do.”

A plaza aimed to serve pedestrians and cyclists will divide the 45,500 square foot Safeway store, to the north, and 9,500 square feet of other retail to the south. See the full set of streetscapes here. (It's a large file that may take some time to load.) Source: Lowney Architecture

A plaza aimed to serve pedestrians and cyclists will divide the 45,500-square-foot Safeway store to the north from 9,500 square feet of other retail to the south. See the full set of streetscape renderings here. (It’s a large file that may take some time to load.) Source: Lowney Architecture

The new Safeway store will include a coffee shop and “big windows for people to look into the store,” he said. His firm worked at “getting the materials right, getting the entrance right, and making it feel appropriate” for the neighborhood, to “try to make it sing.”

Stuart Flashman, a land-use attorney and chairman of the land-use committee for the Rockridge Community Planning Council (RCPC), said he was “relieved and pleased we reached this agreement.” (Flashman was one community participant in the mediation.)

“It’s not the project we would have designed, but we’re not who’s building it,” he told the council. “Given all the compromises, we think it’s a good project.”

Attorney Zachary Walton, another of the neighborhood negotiators, who is part of Friends and Neighbors of College Avenue (FANS), said the community had been “up in arms” over the original designs. But as a result of the appeal and mediation, he told the council, “the community has been heard.”

Todd Paradis, a Safeway real estate manager involved in the mediation, thanked Brunner and Lowney for their efforts in the negotiation, which he described as “a monumental undertaking.” He also said he appreciated Oakland city staff, and credited residents involved in the mediation for “all their time without any compensation” to help move the project forward.

Paradis said Thursday morning that Safeway could begin construction as soon as June; construction is projected to last about a year.

Some residents have taken issue with the prominent “Rockridge” sign. See the full set of streetscape renderings here. (It’s a large file that may take some time to load.) Source: Lowney Architecture

Rockridge resident Nancy McKay told the council, during public comment, that she was among the first people to “jumpstart” the conversation, in 2008, about changes she felt were needed in the Safeway project, which she said she now supports.

“It has taken a village to get to this settlement,” she said, calling the results a “true compromise.”

John Chalik, an Oakland landlord who owns the property across College Avenue from Safeway, told the council that he and his tenants, including a popular produce market and flower shop, “feel this is a much better project than what was proposed before.”

He said they were dismayed to learn, however, that Safeway plans to limit parking in its lot to an hour for shoppers visiting nearby businesses. (Safeway has previously taken the position that drivers, even now, can use the store’s large parking lot while visiting nearby businesses, even if they’re not shopping at Safeway.)

Another resident, Joan Ettlinger, told the council she is concerned about safety along Claremont Avenue due to a lack of “eyes on the street.” (That is the rear side of Safeway, which has been designed as a long unbroken wall.) She also said she hopes parking will be made available for shoppers to nearby businesses during construction.

Three other speakers said the project still isn’t a good fit for the neighborhood, due to its large size, parking structure and a deficit in loading docks. One of them said he had filed a complaint with the city alleging a conflict of interest related to Brunner’s involvement with the mediation.

Denny Abrams, a nearby resident and the developer of Berkeley’s Fourth Street shopping district, was another one of the three. He called the project “a very suburban solution to a wonderful neighborhood.” Abrams told the council that he took “great affront” to the prominent “Rockridge” sign on the Safeway store: “That market does not reflect what Rockridge is about. It’s a small thing to ask to not have that sign there. ”

(Abrams said the new North Berkeley Safeway store, for example, doesn’t sport the neighborhood designation.)

Safeway on College

Brunner acknowledged the neighborhood concerns in her closing remarks.

She said community members fought hard to have the “Rockridge” sign removed, but “we gave up in the end.… I told them: they weren’t going to like the sign in the community. We’re going to approve the sign tonight but that issue’s not going to go away.”

Brunner said Safeway had stood firm on the one-hour time limit for neighborhood shoppers, but had promised not to monitor whether or not community members included Safeway in their rounds. She theorized that the store wasn’t likely to monitor the time limit in the lot “unless it’s jammed.”

She said safety concerns on Claremont are definitely an issue to watch, and that the store had been resistant to add windows along Claremont because that wall is part of a rear work room rather than an area open to customers.

Still, in what was essentially her final meeting after 16 years as a council member representing North Oakland, Brunner said, despite these items, she hoped ultimately the outcome arrived at over the past five weeks is for the best.

“I think that nobody thought there was going to be a solution after all the contentious fighting that went on for years,” she said. “Did we get everything we want? Absolutely not.… Is it bigger than what most people in community want? Yes. But it’s what we were able to get.”

Residents air concerns about College Ave. Safeway plans [12.17.12]
Safeway on College needs all-new design after mediation [11.15.12]
Breaking: Neighbors, Safeway agree on College Ave. store [11.13.12]
Op-Ed: Why I support plans for the Safeway on College [11.12.12]
Revamped Safeway opens in heart of Gourmet Ghetto [10.05.12]
Oakland Planning Commission approves Safeway plans [07.27.12]
Berkeley Council unites in opposing Safeway project [07.18.12]
Berkeley City Council to hold hearing on Safeway project [09.20.11]
Locals protest scale, traffic of proposed Rockridge Safeway [08.01.11]
Safeway buys Berkeley’s Chimes Pharmacy, to consolidate [07.12.11]

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  • AlanTobey

    Nice to see the change in model from the space-wasting suburban singe story store surrounded by a sea of surface parking to at least a two-story urban design that leverages airspace in a decent way.

  • Charles_Siegel

    The pedestrian plaza is also a nice feature. It is actually more like a pedestrian street, integrated with the surrounding street grid.

    In my opinion, it is a much better design than North Shattuck Safeway, because it is oriented to the surrounding sidewalks, rather than being oriented to a surface parking lot.

  • Looks good. Not perfect. But certainly a big improvement over the tired building currently in place.

  • The Sharkey

    But unfortunately not a better design than the building originally proposed.

    The loss of the public seating on the roof of the corner retail building is particularly sad, since it means that the only people who will have an unobstructed view of the hill will be people getting into and out of their cars.

  • Howie Mecken

    How does Berkeley’s unkempt, stylistically challenged and remorselessly prosaic populace suddenly become Ada Louise Huxtable, every time a building is planned? You want Berkeley to be more attractive, buy a hair brush.

  • Damian Bickett

    I have heard that Rockridge residents opposed Market Hall when It located here. Is that accurate? Does anyone know why it was opposed?

  • This is a much better use of space than there is currently and will doubtless result in a much better looking structure. This is the kind of dense urban infill we should be doing everywhere in urban areas, especially when it is exactly the same type of use as previously, only more efficiently designed. This is a depressing place to shop. I can’t wait to go once it is improved.

  • Charles_Siegel

    I may not be as good an architecture critic as Ada Louise Huxtable, but I am obviously much better than Nicolai Ouroussoff. (Joke for architecture buffs.)

  • EBGuy

    The McDermott family owns the property on Gilman, so I doubt that Whole Foods will be able to do much more than build out the existing store.

    I have to say, the University Ave Trade Joe’s seems more and more like a miracle as time passes.

  • Shannon A.

    Berkeley/Rockridge NIMBYs oppose *everything*. It’s a way of life. They fear change. Sometimes, such as the NIMBYs that were holding up the two Berkeley libraries in poorer parts of Berkeley, they do it for cash concessions too.

  • doug

    I agree it’s better than what’s there now, but if we were serious about urban infill the plan would include apartments above the store.