Berkeley neighbors’ bid to halt Starbucks stumbles

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Independent coffee shop Mokka, which is two blocks south of the proposed new Starbucks at 3001 Telegraph Ave. supports an appeal lodged by neighbors, many of whom are loyal customers. Photo: Tracey Taylor

An attempt by a group of South Berkeley neighbors to halt, or at least delay, the arrival of a Starbucks at 3001 Telegraph Ave. (at the intersection with Ashby) stumbled last week when the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board denied its appeal.

The Bateman Neighborhood Association and Jim Smith, of Dana Street, had collected 1,500 signatures on a petition presented, along with an appeal, to ZAB in late March for the new coffee shop, which is planning to go into the new Telegraph Gardens development. The appeal focuses on concerns about traffic congestion and what are seen as unfair waivers given to Starbucks regarding the provision of parking spaces. The community is also worried about what the presence of a Starbucks will mean in terms of competition to the independently owned Mokka coffee shop two blocks away at 3075 Telegraph.

Last Thursday night, in a close 5-4 vote, the board rejected the appeal by neighbors who questioned the permits granted to the project for extended operating hours and an exception for required parking spots. City staff said it’s common to grant parking exceptions when certain criteria are met — such as ample parking nearby and when the business aims to be “neighborhood-serving” and increase pedestrian activity. Staff said the application did meet those criteria, but numerous community members who spoke against the permits questioned that determination.

Neighbors turned out in droves before the zoning board to express their lack of support for a Starbucks at Ashby and Telegraph avenues in Berkeley. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Neighbors turned out before the zoning board to express their lack of support for a Starbucks at Ashby and Telegraph avenues in Berkeley — including, far right, Mokka owner Michael Iida. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Many of the more than 20 residents who spoke said they felt the Starbucks application had received special treatment, such as a lack of neighborhood notification and public hearings; city staff said it had not. Staff brought up the example of a relatively new coffee shop on Dwight Way where the requirement for four parking spots had been waived. Staff said the same process had been followed as far as posted notification and mailings.


Given the size of the proposed new Starbucks, the coffee shop chain needed to provide a total of seven off-street parking spaces as part of its application for an administrative use permit. It said that it would have four off-street parking spaces — available to employees only — inside the building at 3001 Telegraph and the city waived a further three that would normally have been required, citing the fact that many customers and staff would be using public transit or be on foot.

Smith said he would like to see the city do a “credible analysis” of the coffee shop’s impact on traffic congestion and parking. “Without data, how was ZAB able to reach this decision,” he said.

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Michael Iida, owner of Mokka coffee shop close to where the new Starbucks is likely to open, said he understands competition, but he is concerned about its impact on his customer base. Photo: Tracey Taylor

Michael Iida, who owns Mokka, told Berkeleyside while he doesn’t welcome it, he understands competition. He said he stayed neutral when the nearby Whole Foods talked about switching out the flower store on its property for a coffee shop, and then eventually introduced a coffee stand. “As owners, they have a right to do that,” he said. But he believes he will lose customers to Starbucks — including people driving by who recognize the Starbucks brand, and hospital staff for whom the walk to get coffee at Starbucks will be shorter.

In the past few weeks Starbucks has distributed fliers in the neighborhood that speak of the chain being a good neighbor and bringing 25 new jobs to Berkeley. “We’re excited at the possibility of Starbucks being a positive addition to the south side of Berkeley and providing a convenience to the surrounding medical offices, hospital and adjacent neighborhoods,” it states.

A spokesperson for Starbucks, Danny Cowan, said this action was taken to share details of our proposed store, which they expect will “generate pedestrian traffic that will benefit neighborhood merchants.” He said Starbucks had been part of the Berkeley community for 19 years (the city currently has three stores) and that they had heard interest from customers for a new store  in this area, although he said it was anecdotal.


Photo: Tracey Taylor
The proposed new Starbucks will go into the new Telegraph Gardens development at Telegraph and Ashby. Photo: Tracey Taylor

The owner of the building at 3001 Telegraph Ave., Avi Nevo, reached out to Iida at Mokka in March to say he was not insensitive to his concerns, and that his goal is to create a pedestrian-friendly environment, as he has done at other Berkeley locations. In a letter sent to him on March 20, he addressed some of the issues in contention, and wrote: “We hope that through synergy all parties will expand by drawing more patrons to the area. Cafés make the neighborhood a more desirable place to walk around, which will bring more foot traffic to both locations.” He concluded: “This site had been an eyesore for many years, and now we have the chance to create a more vibrant and lively neighborhood. Please join me in giving all of our new neighbors a warm welcome.”

Smith said the neighbors would regroup following the ZAB vote. He said an appeal to the Berkeley City Council was likely, though a final decision hadn’t been made.

Related:
Starbucks planning to open a new store in Berkeley (03.15.13)

Additional reporting to this story was contributed by Berkeleyside staffer Emilie Raguso.

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