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Neighbors appeal development of Starbucks on Telegraph Avenue

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JUNE 16, 2013

A local neighborhood association and a nearby resident are appealing a permit allowing a Starbucks coffee shop to be built near the intersection of Telegraph and Ashby avenues, citing concerns about parking availability and potential competition with local businesses.

According to Jim Smith, the nearby resident joining with the Bateman Neighborhood Association to file the appeal, the purpose of the appeal is to restore public participation in the permit acquisition process. Mokka Cafe, located nearby, has circulated a petition against the opening of Starbucks and has collected 1,500 signatures to date. The Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board will hear the appeal on June 27 in a meeting open to the public.

The appeal claims that the opening of Starbucks presents a threat to local businesses. Additionally, the appeal cites the potential for parking and traffic issues caused by the city’s allowance of Starbucks to have three fewer parking spaces than required by city code, which dictates that food service establishments must have one spot per 300 square feet of space.

According to Michael Iida, owner of Mokka Cafe — which is approximately two blocks away from the proposed development — lack of parking will cause customers to pass by the store during rush hour.

“I have spoken with a number of other businesses, and essentially, there isn’t a business that wants to see Starbucks go in,” Iida said. “The closer they are, the more vociferous, because they are already confronted with a lack of parking for customers.”

The Administrative Use Permit already granted to Starbucks allows it to waive three of seven required spots in exchange for providing employees alternative transportation options, such as reduced-cost bus passes or vouchers. Nathan Dahl, the project planner who reviewed the permit, said this is within the city’s legal power because of the location’s proximity to both BART and to a public parking facility.

In response to neighbors’ concerns about business competition, Dahl said that the city can choose to waive quotas imposed on similar types of businesses if they are likely to “promote pedestrian activity and vibrancy in the neighborhood” — a finding that he said was a “no-brainer” in choosing to grant a permit for a roughly 2,000-square-foot establishment providing quick-service food.

Smith said that businesses like Mokka have already met the same need that Starbucks would satisfy and that the opening of a competing coffee shop may undermine existing businesses’ ability to continue to satisfy that need.

“If they come in and wipe out demand for the other businesses’ services, the other business is forced to shut down,” Smith said. “But if Starbucks doesn’t make an adequate profit, they have no loyalty to the community and will just leave.”

According to Dahl, under no circumstances is he allowed to discriminate between tenants when choosing whether to grant a permit.

Additionally, Iida said that while he expected to lose some business to Starbucks, the potential threat of competition is not Mokka’s motivation for supporting the appeal.

“We do coffee in an entirely different way than Starbucks,” he said. “We offer a much higher-quality product and, from that perspective, I think we compete well.”

Contact Sam Strimling at [email protected]

JUNE 16, 2013