Berkeley to consider restricting large drugstores, future of proposed Solano Ave. Walgreens store in the balance


A rendering of the proposed Walgreens on Solano Avenue in Berkeley, a work in progress, and a project may be impacted by a proposed new zoning decision. Image: courtesy Agree Realty Corporation

Berkeley is set to consider whether to limit the number of larger drugstores in the city, at least in certain neighborhoods, which may put a halt to disputed plans by Walgreens to open a new store on upper Solano Avenue.

The issue will be discussed at the city’s Planning Commission meeting Wednesday, March 19.

If the commission, a citizen’s group that advises the Berkeley City Council, approves drugstore zoning recommendations proposed by city staff, it will move Berkeley closer to legally prohibiting the proposed new Walgreens — a project that set in motion the city’s renewed examination of chain drugstore locations.

Walgreens 3

A rendering of the latest design, not set in stone, of the Walgreens on Solano Avenue. Image: Agree Realty Corporation

At Wednesday’s meeting, a public hearing, the commission will consider three staff recommendations, according to planning commission secretary and senior planner Alex Amoroso. They are:

  • Adopting a definition of drugstore, which includes having a pharmaceutical business and selling licensed drug prescriptions, as well as general merchandise
  • Prohibiting the location of drugstores over 5,000 square feet from locating within 1,000 linear feet of each other
  • Applying this restriction only to the city’s “neighborhood commercial districts”: Elmwood, North Shattuck, Solano Avenue and South Area (see the city zoning map)

The commission can approve or reject all or any part of the recommendations, or ask staff for further refinements or changes.

The Walgreens proposal for 1830 Solano, controversial from the get-go, triggered a new round of city attention to larger drugstores or pharmacies. In 2011, Mayor Tom Bates asked the council to pursue a similar 1,000-foot drugstore buffer zone, but it never gained traction to become law.

The Planning Commission at its Jan. 15 meeting directed city staff to revisit the 2011 proposal and hone new language to prevent neighborhood saturation of drugstores. According to the staff report for the March 19 meeting, the City Council directed the planning commission to review the issue this year, citing concerns about a proliferation of alcohol sales and redundant services in certain areas. Many drugstores sell alcohol.

Amoroso said he wasn’t aware of any other city or jurisdiction with drugstore zoning similar to the proposal before the planning commission. In researching the recommendations, Amoroso said staff looked at a variety of ways cities, including San Francisco, approach regulating commercial uses.

The proposed Walgreens on Solano, currently a 76 gas station, is just under 10,000 square feet. The project is winding its way through the city’s building permit process, an often-lengthy series of steps that requires environmental and design reviews, as well as approval by the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB). The zoning regulations on the books when a building permit is approved govern the project, said Eric Angstadt, Berkeley’s planning director. The planning commission makes recommendations to the City Council for another public airing and final ruling.

Supporters of the Solano Walgreens, and those against the project, are gearing up for Wednesday’s meeting, promising a lively discussion.


Rendering showing the landscaping and seating proposed for the new Walgreens on Solano Avenue. Designs are still a work in progress. Image: Agree Realty Corporation

Opponents of the project, many of whom have organized under a group called No on Walgreens, claim it’s out of character with the neighborhood, will increase traffic, and isn’t needed, with several other pharmacies nearby including Sal’s across the street from the site, and Pharmaca a couple blocks west.

Proponents say the claims of increased traffic aren’t proven, that a drugstore is an environmentally cleaner use than a gas station, and that the proposed Walgreens is better than what could be years of a fenced empty lot, because gas stations require pricy cleanup for new uses.

The two sides squared off last week at a meeting of the Thousand Oaks Neighborhood Association (TONA).

Kurt Beleck, vice president of operations for Michigan-based Agree Realty, which builds and leases Walgreens stores nationally including Berkeley’s, is keenly following the zoning issue, as the company moves ahead with the building permit process. Last week, it held a design charrette on the proposed store, getting neighborhood input on what Beleck described as an evolving architectural design.

He questions the need for zoning controls to prevent chain store saturation, saying the market takes care of this. “But the real impact of reactive zoning restrictions similar to this is that they stifle opportunities for future development and investment by selectively regulating certain types of uses,” Beleck said. “Other retailers will ask, ‘who’s next?’”

The Berkeley Planning Commission meets at 7 p.m. at the North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst St. (The relevant meeting agenda section is Item 10, “Minimum Distance Between Drug Stores.”)

Opponents of proposed Walgreens hope for zoning change (01.15.14)
Walgreens’ Berkeley store plan inches divisively along (12.09.13)
Testy response to proposed Walgreens on Solano Avenue (10.28.13)
Bates: City needs another grocery store, not pharmacy (12.14.11)
Will pharmacy war lead to new restrictions in Berkeley? (04.18.11)

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  • guest

    There’s a Chevron at San Pablo & Gilman, and another one at San Pablo & Camelia, and another one at MLK & Hopkins, and another one at Telegraph & Ashby, and another one at Ashby & Domingo.

    Berkeley has more gas stations than most people would expect for a city that flirts with militant anti-automobile rhetoric.

  • Guest

    Why be concerned about traffic from one drug store but not a mini-mall full of small businesses?

  • Your Name

    Seems like a much better spot for it than University at Shattuck in the heart of downtown.

  • Helen

    Walgreens would need to serve many more customers a day than 6 small businesses would in the same location.

  • Alina

    I checked the pollution reports and the site was already cleaned up through the SWRCB UST program. Thus cleanup costs are not a deterrent for development. Now I’m confused. Are the pro-Walgreens folks just trying to scare us into thinking that this company is the only one with deep pockets willing to pony up the money for the supposedly required cleanup before the lot is developed?

  • Nick Taylor

    What about the water damage and black mold caused by La Farine’s refrigerator? How does that affect the lease renewal? And what is La Farine doing to fix the problem?

  • Nick Taylor

    No cigarettes. But the current gas station does. No liquor either.

  • Devin

    I tend to side with local mom and pops over large, nation-wide chain stores, and avoid Walgreens for all but the most dire items at 11pm, but honestly for a lot for which it seems difficult to find a tenant I don’t think Walgreens would be the end of days. I agree with the sentiment expressed above that Walgreens will fix up that property and if there isn’t a market for it to be sustainable, that’s a double win for the residents that didn’t want a Walgreens, and if it stays in business, its hard to argue there isn’t a market for it.

  • Zelda Bronstein

    Turning right (east) onto Solano from Colusa is already a challenge for drivers. Having to peer around all those trees would make it worse.

  • Guest

    “… in many ways Solano is starting to pick up steam and doing better than it was for some time.”

    People have been saying some variation of this for the last 15 years.

  • guest

    Cleanup is required for any use that would involve underground parking, which would be required for most of the alternate proposals that have been put forth like street-level stores with apartments above.

    Without some kind of parking – which would almost certainly have to be below ground – the same activists who are fighting Walgreens would be fighting any new development for not including enough off-street parking.

  • guest

    Andronico’s is overpriced. The Solano Safeway is a dump. Target, Walmart, & Costco are all outside of Berkeley.

  • guest

    Is there any new development you DO like? Is the Solano Walgreens going to become your new Berkeley Bowl West?

  • guest

    Yeah, I can see this neighborhood opening its arms for that. Never happen. But the zoning only allows two stories anyway, so the precious won’t have to worry.

  • guest

    Oh jeez. “I prefer to get my prescriptions at Cost co (sic) Richmond.” There’s support for the mom and pops!

  • guest

    Yup. Look how well all of those businesses have thrived… oh wait, they haven’t, in fact some of the spaces are moribund and have been mostly vacant.

  • Antonio Noguerra

    Zoning can be changed. After all, what could be more important than creating affordable housing opportunities for every homeless person who lands in Berkeley? We can also order up more of those port-a-potties for Cordonices Park.

  • Culper Agent 355

    The La Farine building has been largely business vacant since being purchased by the Goulds for $11,250,000. They have provided months of free rent to a variety of small businesses trying to kick start things. With this record of monetary losses, what developer is stepping forward for another building of boutique size retail stores? Look at Nevo. Wonder if he’ll get a boutique in that corner across from Whole Foods on Ashby? Boutiques are great, but other retailers are too. It’s not an either/or.

  • Eliza B.

    Read how Walgreens treats their employees and customers:

  • guest

    Number 1, I do not drive. I ride the bay trail on a bicycle
    Number 2) CostCo has a mail in pharmacy, so you do not have to actually go to the store for your prescriptions.

  • EBGuy

    Well, they’re paying property taxes (over $100k) based on a $6.2million valuation now. And Solano will continue its decline….

  • guest

    Only a few of us can have moms and pops that own businesses. Most of us have moms and pops that work for someone else. It is important to have good jobs available with benefits for those of us who do not own the means of production.

  • Charles_Siegel

    I shop regularly in the Telegraph Ave Walgreens, which is so small that it has less junk food than most.

    When I went to check out the downtown Walgreens, I was amazed at all the aisles filled with junk food. Go there and count them.

  • guest

    Berkeley has a chain-store problem — which is also an absentee owner financial parasite problem. How many Walgreens stores are there in Berkeley already? How many CVS? After Office Depot moved in on Berkeley its funny-money imported subsidy prices drove at least five stationary stores within a two mile radius out of business (with further help from a big contract with UC, one heard). Then their stock dropped dramatically and their prices rose dramatically and now all they stock for paper and much else is their own house brands, at predatory prices. Who does this benefit besides the 1% of predatory “investors” mostly located thousands of miles from here? Is Berkeley their cash cow?

  • Helen

    Sals pharmacy is directly across the street. No one needs to drive to a drug store today.

  • Zelda Bronstein

    So you don’t think adding trees to that corner is going to make it harder for drivers to turn right up Solano?

  • Rachel Anderson

    Andronico’s may be overpriced for somethings but I was recently (surprised) to discover that I paid more at Monterey Market for cereal, canned meats, aluminum foil etc.

  • guest

    Number 3) You do not have to be a member to use the pharmacy
    Number 4) They have a bike rack, near the entrance, look next time after your park

  • Ava

    Berkeley does not need another Walgreens! And I hardly think this one will restore the crowds to Solano.

  • david

    Can you prove anything that you are saying? Which stores went out of business? Was the presence of Office Depot the cause? Did Office Depot actually sell the same products as those businesses? How many small businesses in any given two square mile radius in Berkeley go out of business in a similar time frame? How much did prices go up at Home Depot, and when? I get that you want to push a narrative, and it might be true, but I’m not sure I buy it.

  • david

    I think we both know that Walgreens is more like a general store than a drug store, and that they sell many things that are not available from any of the stores in upper Solano Ave. That means that they are likely to generate a great deal of foot traffic from the neighborhood, which means less driving, which is a good thing. Actually, with the exception of Sals, I would think the presence of Walgreens would be good for local businesses.

  • david

    What an earth makes you think that Walgreens would be stupid enough to sell e-cigarettes to minors from an elementary school?

  • Sonya Violet

    Again, you are using an overly broad brushstroke. Around/post economic downturn there were some years there when we had more empty store fronts than one can remember…this has been improving.

  • Sonya Violet

    Heads up: the folks who do not want a Walgreens on that particular corner have no problem with clean up necessary for parking! You are confusing the issues here.

  • Sonya Violet

    5 Walgreens and 4 CVSs already!

  • Berkeleyan

    Right! We have to stop these people from buying what they want by zoning such stores out of existence! It is our moral duty as Berkeleyans to impose our will on other people and force everyone to do what we want!

  • guest

    You’re the one confusing the issues.

    1.) The same residents who are complaining about this development would complain about any development that didn’t include parking.
    2.) Because of the small size of the lot, any new development would have to include underground parking.
    3.) Because of the remediation required only a company like Walgreens has the money to do the required cleanup and put in underground parking.

  • guest

    “Walgreens and Crystal Tobacco, both located near the intersection of
    Bass Lake Road and West Broadway, sold tobacco to undercover, underage
    Police Explorers as part of the Crystal Police Department’s periodic
    license checks”

  • guest
  • guest

    Try Berkeley Bowl next time. Or for non-fresh items, CostCo or even Target.

  • guest

    No, because the danger in a right hand turn up Solano comes from traffic on the left.

  • guest

    Oh is that what that thing is? It’s had to tell since there are never any bikes at it.

  • guest

    Right, because street plantings and a pedestrian-friendly bulb-out aren’t part of a productive, pleasant, human-scale urban setting. Right.

  • guest

    If something makes it harder for drivers but better for pedestrians, then I am against it.

  • Sonya Violet

    1. Not sure actually – very heterogeneous group of folks concerned about/against a Walgreens on that particular corner.
    2. Not sure this either – depends on what goes in – may be presumptuous.
    3: Not true – read above from Alina. And, in fact, we have learned seller has responsibility for clean up….

  • Tootie

    “the 1% of predatory “investors” mostly located thousands of miles from here…”

    Oh, please: Stocks such as CVS and Walgreens are in mutual funds of your so-called 99%.

    Give me a break.

  • Helen

    Businesses succeed and fail for many reasons. One reason businesses fail is due to lack of demand for products. Which I think will be Walgreens situation. Putting that aside I’m more concerned about traffic, parking and pedestrian safety. Sounds like there is a plan for underground parking some reserved for employees. Not sure that will help much if at all. Anything else in the works?

  • Helen

    Please check out this story on Walgreens. The article is a bit dated but its scary that this could be happening next door.

  • Chris Gilbert

    The pictures are lovely. I can barely see the building though. It could be anything. Let’s leave the building out and build a park or something. That’s what we all want isn’t it? We don’t really want a Walgreens, we just want a nice place to sit and read the paper among the antherium and tall trees. Why settle for an ugly building selling pedestrian merchandise when we can have some interesting things here? Maybe a top-end restaurant (Comal is expanding to Elmwood, why not here?) What else?

  • Mistah Cassanova

    Drugstores are needed due to all of the pollution making people sick. Yo Tom Bates, time to propose a 1000 ft buffer zone of smokestacks and chemical manufacturers from residences and schools and school bus stops. Clean up Berkeley and make it green.