College Avenue Safeway construction delayed by community negotiations

Jan Flatley Feldman/Staff

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The expansion of a Safeway grocery store near the Berkeley and Oakland border has been halted once again due to a new round of negotiations between the company and community organizations.

The proposed plan for the store, located on College and Claremont avenues, initially raised community concerns over potential increased traffic and threats to local businesses. A little more than a year ago, all parties were able to reach a settlement that included reduction of the planned building’s size.

The most recent round of negotiations between the company and neighborhood organizations was sparked after Safeway submitted its building plans to the city of Oakland in late July without running the design past community groups, said Zabrae Valentine, chair of the Rockridge Community Planning Council.

The main issue that flagged community groups’ attention was a proposed 5-foot increase in height of the Safeway building due to the use of a different foundational material, Valentine said.

After discussion with community groups that began in August, Safeway reduced the height increase by half. Additionally, the company agreed to remove a large sign on top of the building, reverted to the original design for the main staircase, implemented long-term landscape management and increased the mitigation fund.

“I think we’re all pretty anxious for it to get going and done with,” said Dean Metzger, vice president of the Claremont Elmwood Neighborhood Association, which was involved in the initial debate regarding the project. “People have to travel a long way to shop these days.”

Safeway’s building permit is currently under review and will be processed once negotiations between the company and community groups are resolved, according to Pete Vollmann, a planner for the city of Oakland.

Currently, the final draft of a letter that will clearly outline the refinements to the original agreement is being passed between Safeway and community groups for all parties’ approval. Some of the groups include Berkeleyans for Pedestrian Oriented Development, Friends and Neighbors of College Avenue and RCPC, according to Valentine.

Safeway expects to resume construction after the holidays once the company finishes negotiating the final points of the mandated settlement agreement with community groups, said Wendy Gutshall, Safeway’s public affairs and government relations manager, in an e-mail.

“I think the main cause for the time that this project has taken is that for the people involved with Safeway, their day job includes this issue, but for everyone in the community, this work is done on a volunteer basis,” Valentine said. “Even when everyone’s trying really hard, there are only so many hours in a day, so it’s taken a bit longer than it would have if everyone were doing it in the professional capacity.”

The Safeway at this location closed in July for the expansion project. Since its closure, the original building has been demolished and grading of the site has completed.

Contact Chloee Weiner at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @_chloeew .