Safeway, residents reach settlement over design for College Avenue store

Matt Miller/File
The Safeway on College and Claremont has finally reached a settlement regarding the renovation plans.

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After six years of stalled plans, neighborhood groups and Safeway Inc. have reached a settlement on the renovation of the grocery store’s College Avenue location.

On Nov. 8, Oakland City Councilmember Jane Brunner mediated negotiations between Safeway and two resident organizations that had filed an appeal with the City Council against Safeway’s renovation plans, which they argued violated zoning permits and would increase traffic in the neighborhood bordering South Berkeley.

After the 12-hour marathon of negotiations, Safeway reached a settlement with the Rockridge Community Planning Council and Berkeleyans for Pedestrian Oriented Development that addresses the majority of the groups’ main concerns.

The new proposal reduces the 45,500-square-foot project’s size by 8,000 square feet, reduces the store from two levels to one and promotes pedestrian-oriented shopping, among other changes, according to a memo by Brunner to the council on Nov. 13.

The preliminary agreement will be presented to Oakland City Council for approval on Dec. 18. If approved, the grocery store could break ground by December 2013.

Both groups had originally entered the talks with low expectations, but after some encouragement by the council member, representatives came to the table to offer new solutions and left hopeful that the development process could move forward.

“It’s not everything we hoped for, but that’s what always happens with a settlement,” said Stuart Flashman, who represented the Rockridge organization in the negotiations. “It wouldn’t be a settlement if everyone left 100 percent happy.”

Resident groups argued that the previous designs would impede the neighborhood’s “pedestrian-oriented shopping.” Flashman said that the area’s layout currently allows customers to easily walk in and out of the various shops, and he was concerned that the proposed parking structure on the ground level of the Safeway store would instead enable customers to move directly from their cars to the store and back to their cars without ever walking around the other retailers.

Prior to the negotiations, resident organizations had been ready to take legal action if the council had approved Safeway’s plans.

“We had an attorney ready,” Flashman said. “This is certainly a lot better than adding two years of litigation.”

The corporation is also still working out its negotiations with the city of Berkeley, which it hopes to finalize by December as well. Due to the site’s proximity to Berkeley, concerns arose that the new store would increase traffic in the area, which is already highly congested.

Berkeley City Councilmember Gordon Wozniak, who had previously opposed the originally proposed designs, said that although the new plans still include a larger site and scale of activity than he would like, he is overall supportive of the settlement.

“I just hope that the area remains pedestrian-oriented,” he said. “It’s a vibrant neighborhood — we want to keep that ambiance.”

Safeway’s management is ready to move forward with the planning process. It hopes to create a design within the next six weeks that allows for a functional market while also maintaining the terms of the settlement.

“There are hundreds and hundreds of residents who really want a new store,” said Elisabeth Jewel, a partner in Aroner, Jewel & Ellis Partners, the consulting firm serving Safeway. “They have lived with an old, unattractive store for a long time and are ready for something that fits into the community and is architecturally significant.”

Contact Alex Beryhill at [email protected].