Albany City Council approves UC development plan for Gill Tract

Linh Phung/Staff
The UC-owned land for which the Albany City Council approved development Monday.

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The Albany City Council approved a plan for development on UC-owned land in the city Monday night, despite opposition from community members and local activists.

The council’s decision approves the University Village Mixed Use Project, which involves the construction of a Whole Foods Market, a senior housing complex and mixed retail center on a portion of land belonging to UC Berkeley’s University Village housing complex.

Campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof said he was pleased with the result of the meeting and called it an important step forward.

“This is an indication that the five-year-long process of collaboration has resulted in a benefit for both the city and the university,” Mogulof said.

Out of the five members of the City Council, Councilmember Robert Lieber was the only member to vote against the agreement between the city and university.

“I’m disappointed that the council approved a project with no benefit for the community,” Lieber said. “The university had an opportunity to step forward and approve the open space.”

Lieber asked for an easement for the land, which would have given the city access to the area in order to maintain open space and agricultural land for the future, but the council did not approve his motion.

Christine Shaff, communications director for the campus’s Facilities Services Department, said the published master plan for the development identifies areas for open space, but Lieber still expressed doubts about preserving the land.

“The open space they have identified is on the creek bank,” Lieber said. “It would have been preserved anyway. It’s not an appropriate outstanding amenity for the community.”

The land proposed for development neighbors campus research land known as the Gill Tract, on which a group of activists known as Occupy the Farm established an encampment in late April. The occupation, which lasted for three weeks before being raided by police, protested the development project and advocated for community agriculture on the tract.

Members of Occupy the Farm broke into the tract on Saturday in order to harvest and weed the rows of crops they had planted during the occupation.

Stefanie Rawlings, an Occupy the Farm spokesperson and campus alumna, said she was disappointed with the decision but was not surprised.

“I wish that (Lieber’s) easement had been approved,” Rawlings said. “But the real seat of power is with the community. We’re going to put our efforts into grassroots action and community organization.”

Rawlings said she was encouraged by how many people came to the meeting to speak in support of the farm.

Shaff said it would take some time before development could begin on the land.

“What we’ll do next is enter into more formal agreements with development companies in addition to working with the city for logistical details,” Shaff said. “The university has a general framework for the project, but we will work with the developers to add details to the plan.”