A mixed-use, five-story complex could be the latest in a sequence of developments to pop up near an industrial area of West Berkeley by the Fourth Street shopping district.
Architect David Trachtenberg, acting on behalf of the Read family, which owns the property 2001 Fourth St., has applied for a use permit for the 71,250-square-foot lot at the current site of discount market Grocery Outlet. If the Zoning Adjustments Board approves the project, the two-story building that houses Grocery Outlet will be demolished to make way for the new development.
Read Berkeleyside’s Jan. 22, 2015, update on the project.
The building would have 152 residential apartments and more than 8,450 square feet of retail or restaurant space, according to the application. Twelve of the units will be reserved for very low income residents, unless the owners decide to pay the $400,000 affordable housing mitigation fee. [Update, Jan. 22: The developer would actually have to do both.] The zoning code caps the height of mixed-use buildings in the area at 50 feet, but the firm has applied for a density bonus that would accommodate the 58-foot-tall design. The project is fully parked, meaning there is at least one space per unit, and there are 66 bike spaces included in the plan.
“The project will benefit West Berkeley by providing a high quality infill development in keeping with the scale, texture and quality of the existing context,” Trachtenberg wrote in the application. “The project will create needed housing and contribute to the revitalization of this district.” Trachtenberg is out of town and was unavailable for comment at press time.
The architect is working with property owners Read Investments, LLC, a real estate firm founded by the same family that founded and owns the Grocery Outlet chain. Trachetenberg is known and celebrated for Berkeley buildings that include the facade of Comal restaurant, KPFA Radio, Saul’s Deli, The Rose St Grocery Townhouses, The La Farine Building on Solano Ave., Berkeley Bowl East, headquarters for Backroads, MIG, Kermit Lynch, Acme Bread, and Peet’s Coffee.
Trachtenberg has collaborated with the Reads on two other projects in the immediate area: the Read Building on Fourth Street, which houses the Sierra Nevada Torpedo Room, and The Aquatic, a smaller mixed-use development under construction at 800 University Ave. near Fifth Street.
The team has been eyeing the Grocery Outlet site for years, according to Trachtenberg’s application.
“Options for redeveloping the site have been looked at for about 10 years, since the planning stages of the Read Building,” it says.
Grocery Outlet has occupied the building, which was built around 1950, since the Reads moved the chain’s corporate headquarters from San Francisco to Berkeley in 1992. Last year the company, which now has over 200 stores, moved its headquarters again to Emeryville, saying they’d outgrown the Berkeley office.
Grocery Outlet’s private equity owners have put the chain on the market. Grocery Outlet spokeswoman Melissa Porter said the management team, which includes co-CEO MacGregor Read, the grandson of the original founder, will likely stay intact after the sale.
Porter said the closure of the Grocery Outlet on Fourth Street is unrelated to the proposed development plans at the site.
“That store has not met its financial goals for quite a while,” Porter said. “That particular site is not a favorable site for us. I’ve been here seven years and I can tell you it’s been a topic the entire time I’ve been here. I’m sure they’ve had plans [to redevelop the site], but this was not something that was brought into our executive group and discussed.”
Many neighbors are mourning the pending loss of the only grocery store within walking distance — and one known for its affordability and discount prices on specialty items.
“A lot of the customers are people that are lifelong customers,” said Jose Rubio, an Eighth Street resident who shops at the store every day and has lived in the neighborhood his entire life. “Most of the ones that I know don’t drive. They’re elderly and they won’t have a place that’s affordable. Not just that, but my two kids’ mother works at Grocery Outlet. She lives check to check and she’s going to be displaced. From what I’ve seen with my own eyes, the employees there have been in tears.”
It is likely that the new complex’s retail space will house a grocery store, said Isaiah Stackhouse, a principal at Trachtenberg’s firm, in an email he composed with the Read family.
“From the earliest stages of planning, there has been an ongoing outreach to a broad range of potential groceries, from small local family-run businesses all the way up to large supermarket chains,” they wrote. “These discussions, which remain active and ongoing, have led to the inclusion of a flexible space designed to be able to work well for a neighborhood-serving grocery.”
Rubio was one of six neighbors to attend a community meeting held by the developers in May. He said he heard about the event from a Grocery Outlet customer, as fliers, according to a map in the application, were distributed only to 41 properties in the immediate area.
Some West Berkeley residents are concerned that the wave of development in the neighborhood may never break.
Just across the street from Grocery Outlet is Fourth & U, a fairly new 171-unit complex with one-bedroom apartments with rents starting at $2,280. The Avalon Building, a mixed commercial and residential complex, opened at 651 Addison St. between Fourth Street and Bolivar Lane in May. It has 99 units, and rent for one-bedroom apartments start at $2,445. The Aquatic will add 58 apartments to the mix when it opens.
Some say the new developments threaten to price longtime residents out of the area and are turning the neighborhood into a boxy clone of Emeryville. Others say the new housing complexes are bringing much needed life and vibrancy to a drab, underutilized area whose original manufacturing presence has been dwindling for years.
“It’s a lot of influx, and I feel like we’re kind of under siege here in West Berkeley,” said Todd Boekelheide, a film composer who lives in the area who organized with neighbors to protest the size of Fourth & U before it opened. “Traffic is terrible, parking is horrible. It seems like excessive density.”
“The observation generally among the people who live in the area is these communities, being secure communities with drive-in garages, don’t really tend to participate in the life of the neighborhood,” said Patrick Sheahan, a West Berkeley resident and architect who sits on the city Planning Commission. “With the more established, more lower-rise, lower-density residential areas in West Berkeley I’ve noticed a lot more cohesion. There’s that element of participation that in large projects just doesn’t happen because everybody’s living above the street.”
The large housing developments tend to attract more transient populations who might not have as much of a stake in the community, Sheahan said.
Steven Donaldson, who has an office nearby and is a member of zoning board, said he has noticed more people walking around the neighborhood, which he thinks is spurred in part by the new developments.
“When we first purchased a property and were working here, there had been a shooting in front of our building the first week we were here,” said Donaldson, whose branding firm has been located on Fifth Street since 1993. “We saw very little pedestrian interaction around here.”
The Sierra Nevada tasting room has added some foot traffic, and plenty of residents from the pet-friendly Fourth & U walk around the neighborhood with their dogs, he said.
“I see them, I talk to them, they’ve added a little bit of life to the neighborhood,” said Donaldson, who couldn’t comment on the 2001 Fourth St. proposal, because it is set to come before the zoning board. “Other than that I think it hasn’t been this radical improvement, or that it’s going downhill. It’s just been a gradual change over the 20 years I’ve been here.”
The general sentiment among even those who are critical of development is that the latest proposal is a thoughtful one. “The Read brothers seem like pretty good developers,” said Boekelheide. “They’re not trying to get every last square inch in the city.”
Sheahan praised the proposed design and the other Trachtenberg projects in the area.
“It’s a good example of very high quality, appropriately scaled design and construction,” he said.
He cited a few concerns: that the material may not be as high grade as the firm’s previous projects, and that the “doughnut” design — housing units surrounding an entirely enclosed courtyard — may not foster interaction with the rest of the neighborhood.
“That tends to put inward focus to the project,” Sheahan said. “The street level is mostly occupied with a garage wall, with one strip of commercial. I think it’s a kind of forbidding presentation to the street at pedestrian level.”
Stackhouse conversely mentioned the street-oriented commercial space on Fourth Street and the residential lobbies and leasing office on Fifth Street, explaining in his email that these elements are designed to “create a more active and continuous streetscape.”
A 67-foot setback from the street was included “to be sensitive to the adjacent single-family residential parcels,” he wrote.
The zoning board hearing for 2001 Fourth St. has not been scheduled.
Porter said the closure date for Grocery Outlet has not yet been determined.
Editor’s note: The article has been updated to correct information about what buildings Trachtenberg Architects has worked on. It originally said the firm worked on the Berkeley Montessori School. That is not correct.
Housing to replace Berkeley Grocery Outlet building (01.22.15)
Sierra Nevada’s Torpedo Room opens in Berkeley (11.26.13)
‘The Aquatic’ wins easy approval from Berkeley officials (10.11.13)
Shop Talk: The ins and outs of Berkeley businesses (07.02.13)
Nine Berkeley buildings win ‘design excellence’ awards (04.03.13)
Measure T: Will it enhance or ruin West Berkeley? (11.29.12)
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