A recent court ruling that gives exclusive parking lot rights to the owners of 1414 University Ave., former home of Andronico’s, has left nearby business owners fuming.
In August, an Alameda County Superior Court judge decided that Palo Alto’s Berkeley Bazaar Partnerships (BBP) is the sole owner of the parking lot that sits between 1414 University and 1432 University, even though tenants and customers of the former address, known as Strawberry Walk, have been using the lot for decades.
BBP has leased part of the 25,000-square-foot building at 1414 University and the adjacent parking lot, to Savers Thrift Superstores, a 57-year-old Washington-based company with more than 290 stores around the country. When Savers opens in November, no one patronizing the string of small businesses on Strawberry Walk bordering the lot will be allowed to park there.
“The property has always been owned by Berkeley Bazaar Partners, and we never had an agreement with Strawberry Walk for parking or use of our lot,” said BBP’s Joyce Yamagiwa.
Cecile Isaacs, an owner of the property at 1432 University, disputes that idea. Because the lot was shared by businesses that predated Andronico’s and Strawberry Walk, she believed her tenants would have access to the lot when she purchased the building in 1994.
“When we bought the property, we thought that under several different theories of law, we had the right to let the customers of our tenants use that lot,” said Isaacs. She maintained that prescriptive easement — rights to a property due to continued use — granted Strawberry Walk the rights to the lot.
But the judge ruled that prescriptive easement does not apply in this case, and found that the business that previously owned Isaacs’ building had signed an agreement that effectively gave up its rights to the lot.
When Andronico’s occupied the building at 1414 University — it closed in late 2011 — BBP leased the building and the parking lot to the store, which allowed Andronico’s to offer parking to neighboring businesses. Because BBP is not leasing the entire property to Savers, the partnership has control over the lot.
“Andronico’s was operating the parking lot in their best business interest,” Yamagiwa said. “I have no control nor any specific knowledge as to what Andronico’s did over the 20 years they were there.”
Richard Tiang, the owner of Strawberry Walk’s Dollar Depot, said Andronico’s had a symbiotic relationship with the neighboring shops.
“They understood how it helped them and helped us, customer-wise,” to share the lot, he said.
Tiang said his business is threatened by the judge’s decision. When BBP fenced off the lot earlier this year to prepare for Savers’ move, business dropped immediately. “It’s hard for people to park so we don’t have many walk-in customers,” he said.
Isaacs initially removed the fencing, after her tenants said it implied to passers-by that the shops in Strawberry Walk were closed, though they were not. In August, the judge issued a restraining order against Isaacs that prevents her “from taking any action to physically remove or relocate any fences, signage, or barricades” on the lot.
When Tiang arrived at work one morning earlier this month, he was surprised to see that the 26 parking spaces in front of the Strawberry Walk shops were labeled “Reserved for Savers Employees.” Isaacs claims this is a “tactical move” on the part of BBP. She has approached BBP about renting some of the spaces, but they declined to do so.
“Our primary mission and goal is to help ensure the success and viability of our tenants,” Yamagiwa said. “Parking is critical for a retail business, so we have taken action to secure the parking for the use by our tenants.”
The decision to mark the spaces, however, was made without input from Savers. Craig Gains, the new store manager, said he was as surprised as his neighbors to see the reserved spaces.
“We were kind of shocked,” he said. “We’re all about being good neighbors.”
But the decision may not be up to Savers, which opens Nov. 14. Gains said he is wary of giving the Strawberry Walk tenants permission to use the lot because BBP may penalize them anyway.
“I will definitely be contacting the property management because I don’t want to walk in tomorrow and say, ‘Oh! An electric fence!’” said Gains. He has worked at several Savers locations and said he does expect the store to generate enough business to fill the 80-space lot.
Several neighbors are preparing to protest the parking restrictions. Nicola Bourne lives a few blocks west of the site on Chestnut Street, and said a knee injury requires her to drive to do her shopping at Strawberry Walk. She said communication on the part of BBP would have made a big difference.
“They should have posted something to the effect of, ‘We regret, but we need the space. We realize that the community has become accustomed to it, but it is our property and of course we’re free to do what we want with it.’”
Isaacs said BBP did not contact her before putting up the fence that blocked the entrance to the lot or labeling the spaces.
“I do appreciate and understand the hardship Strawberry Walk may be faced with at this point,” Yamagiwa said. “But the property that has been parked in for all these years belongs to BBP and always has.”
Ace Hardware will not move to old Andronico’s space (09.18.12)
Shop Talk: The ins and outs of Berkeley businesses (07.13.13)
Andronico’s to shutter University Avenue store (10.17.11)
Andronico’s and A.G. Ferrari saved from the brink (10.12.11)
Andronico’s files for bankruptcy (08.22.11)
Andronico’s plans recapitalization with new lenders and investors (05.25.11)
Four Berkeley Andronico’s face difficult conditions (05.24.11)
A.G. Ferrari closes Berkeley store, company bankrupt (04.05.11)
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