Safeway expansion plans create tension among community members

Lowney Architecture/Courtesy
The plans for the renovated building include a design that is two stories, with retail space on the bottom floor and a new Safeway located above.

Plans to expand the Safeway on College Avenue have ignited both strong support and opposition, with a main concern being that the expansion could contribute to congestion in the area during peak hours.

The project for the store, which lies in Oakland just past the Berkeley-Oakland border, has been in negotiations for more than two years but may not be up for an official Oakland City Council recommendation until the spring of 2012, said Oakland City Councilmember Jane Brunner.

“I’ve gotten a strong reaction in the neighborhood from both sides,” Brunner said.

The Oakland Planning Commission hosted a public hearing Wednesday with a public comment period that will be open until August 15.

According to an economic benefit document for the project, anticipated benefits include 78 more Safeway positions, $400,000 in annual revenue to the city of Oakland and a better pedestrian experience through installing planters, bike racks and articulated store fronts.

Susan Houghton, Safeway director of public and government affairs, said in an email the project has garnered more than 1,000 supporters who signed a petition endorsing the expansion.

“We have worked collaboratively with local neighbors and groups on this project and believe the current design best represents all interests,” Houghton said in an email.

On the other hand, those who oppose the project are mainly concerned with the added size of the store, which will bring more vehicular traffic, Brunner said.

But Houghton said in the email that the city of Oakland has taken precautions to address such concerns.

“As with any construction project, the city ensures that traffic mitigation measures are in place as part of the approval for our project,” Houghton said in the email.

According to the draft of the environmental impact report for the project, the planned expansion will include increasing the existing 24,260-square-foot store to 51,510 square feet plus a 10,657-square-foot ground level commercial space along College Avenue by utilizing the vacant lot that was previously occupied by a Union 76 gas station.

The space is planned to be a restaurant with public roof access, according to the report.

The project also includes plans to tentatively include eight tenant retail spaces likely for small boutiques along College Avenue spanning up to 10,000 more square feet, said John Skrivanich, principal architect for Lowney Architecture, a designer for the project.

“I feel strongly that if this project gets built close to the way it is designed, I believe it will be great for the neighborhood,” Skrivanich said.

On the other side of Berkeley, the Safeway on Shattuck Avenue has only yet to begin construction after more than three years of discussion, according to Skrivanich.

Skrivanich said the plans for the College Avenue Safeway are much larger than the final plans for the Shattuck Avenue Safeway, and he expects the same if not more city and public discussion.

“The College and Claremont (Avenue) Safeway will be tougher — in the end, I hope the changes are minimal,” Skrivanich said.

According to Chris Jackson, the operations manager of the Rockridge District Assocation — a business improvement organization whose district covers the Safeway on College Avenue — the association has a neutral position towards the project but has voiced concerns in regards to traffic.

“When the project goes before City Council, we will have to see how it all pans out,” Jackson said.