Albany City Council votes to move forward University Village Mixed Use Project

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Police officers watch members of Occupy the Farm tend to crops at the Gill Tract on Nov. 9th.

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Despite campaigns to stall it, a recent Albany City Council vote has removed a hurdle in the University of California’s plans for the development of a grocery store, senior housing complex and mixed-retail center on UC-owned land in Albany.

At a Nov. 19 meeting, the council voted to rescind a controversial agreement between the university and the city, allowing the project — which has been in the works since 2007 — to continue without it.

As a result, the University Village Mixed Use Project — which would develop land near the intersection of San Pablo Avenue and Monroe Street in Albany — will not need to be put up to a vote in a special election, which could take months.

The agreement would have formalized multiple community-oriented plans for the plot, like providing priority housing to Albany residents in the senior housing complex.

“The University is disappointed that the development agreement which included mutual benefits both the community and the University was challenged by a referendum,” said Kevin Hufferd, project manager and the UC director of property development, in an email.

The community group Keep Albany Local crafted a petition signed by more than 1,400 Albany voters criticizing the project’s development and lack of public outreach and calling for a referendum of a July 9 City Council decision passing it.

The petition campaign followed months of protest by the Occupy the Farm movement, members of which broke into the UC-owned land and planted crops to start an urban farm on another portion of it, arguing that the new complex may damage the soil and increase air pollution by drawing more traffic to the area.

The Whole Foods Market that was previously slated to occupy a large portion of the retail space pulled out of the project in September due to delays caused by the referendum as well as a lawsuit against the city, according to a UC press release.

While it tries to identify a replacement grocery store operator, the university plans to move forward with the senior housing complex right away.

“The major determining factor for the timing and nature of the development of the project will be local economic conditions,” according to a recent staff report by Jeff Bond, Albany’s community development director.

Although the development agreement was rescinded, the university still plans on meeting some of the provisions it outlined in the agreement, such as labor provisions for all workers, continuing to provide a field for the Albany Little League and covering all relocation costs if necessary, according to Hufferd.

“We (will) continue to try to balance the difference points of view expressed by the community as we move forward with the project under the guidelines approved by the city,” Hufferd said in the email.

Afsana Afzal is the lead academics and administration reporter. Contact her at [email protected].