The Berkeley City Council evaluated the latest proposal for the Rockridge neighborhood Safeway expansion at its meeting Tuesday night, with council members and residents advocating against the expansion.
The council’s consensus at the meeting was that the College Avenue expansion would not go forward unless the conditions of approval discussed at the meeting were met, thereby allowing Oakland to approve the expansion.
The Safeway expansion would increase the grocery store’s size to 50,400 gross square feet from its current 25,000 gross square feet, make the store two stories, add retail to the ground floor, create a new parking garage and add a loading dock for trucks.
The conditions of approval of the project require that before Oakland issues a certificate of occupancy to Safeway, the store must place funds into an escrow account that will ensure improvements will be completed without any financial impact on Berkeley.
The conditions need to be met in order for the Safeway expansion to be approved by Oakland and to meet the guidelines of the Berkeley’s Environmental Impact Report, which states the unavoidable environmental impacts the construction would create.
“We envision a vibrant urban design with expanded product offerings and enhanced services that bring Safeway and the currently uninspiring corner into the 21 century,” said Keith Turner, director of Government and Public Affairs for Safeway’s Norcal Division, in an email. The project is also located in an area with a history of fighting proposed development, according to Turner.
At the meeting, councilmembers and residents expressed concerns about the scale of the project and the increase in traffic the store would create in the surrounding area, which is already traffic-congested.
Councilmember Gordon Wozniak said many of the impacts associated with the expansion would fall into Berkeley.
“The immediate neighbors (of Safeway) are over the border in Berkeley, and they have already had complaints about the size of the project and the traffic impacts it would have on an already crowded neighborhood,” Wozniak said.
The conditions also recommend a number of new traffic changes to the four intersections surrounding the store, which aim to improve the traffic flow in the areas that would be affected by the expansion.
Currently, both the Oakland and Berkeley city staffs are working with the Safeway development team to create a list of conditions of approval for the project, according to the mitigation agreement which was discussed at the meeting.
Wozniak said the expansion would be a very large development and could have a potential negative impact on small businesses on the west side of College Avenue.
At the meeting the council reiterated its opposition to the project with an unanimous agreement against the project.
“I want to reiterate that you are not green lighting any mitigation tonight. You are agreeing to accept funds for mitigation,” said Matthew Francois, a lawyer from Sedgwick Law who spoke on behalf of Safeway at Tuesday’s meeting.
The community will have the opportunity to challenge the Safeway expansion on July 25 in front of the city of Oakland Planning Commission.
“The council will be going on recess, so we need to keep monitoring the situation so we know how to respond to it,” Wozniak said at the meeting.
According to city spokesperson Mary Kay Clunies-Ross, the city of Berkeley will be sending a letter in the next few months to the city of Oakland or the Oakland City Council listing the concerns from Tuesday’s meeting and asking Oakland not to take any action on the project until the council reconvenes in November.
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