City Council votes against permit for south Berkeley Starbucks location

Hayden Irwin/Staff

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Starbucks will not be coming to south Berkeley anytime soon after a 6-0-3 vote by Berkeley City Council Tuesday night to deny the business’s permit application.

At a public hearing during the meeting, many local business owners and residents voiced concerns that the development would impede the flow of traffic, exacerbate an existing parking shortage and endanger bicyclist and pedestrian safety due to lane modifications that would need to be made.

Community members raised concerns that the building — an about 2,000-square foot vacant commercial space at the corner of Telegraph and Ashby avenues — was unsuitable for the kind of special permit requested, which would have allowed the business to be open 5:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

Over the summer, the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board granted a permit and waiver to Starbucks that would have exempted them from having all seven legally required parking spots for employees and patrons. The City Council, however, decided that adding a high-traffic business to the area would worsen an already-problematic parking and traffic situation and that the company’s offer to provide bus passes to employees would not solve the problem.

“Having that many people trying to get to the coffee shop and circling around the (Alta Bates) hospital area trying to find parking spaces is going to aggravate the problem we already have,” said Lucy Smallsreed, president of the Bateman Neighborhood Association.

In a July interview with The Daily Californian, Andrew Zall, a Starbucks development manager, said the company had evaluated the conditions of on-street parking in the area and concluded that parking was “available at all times.”

“179 spaces are located within three blocks of the proposed store on Ashby, Telegraph and Webster,” Zall said. “There are always at least 52 spots available. There is more than enough parking to meet demand.”

Councilmember Kriss Worthington said he chose to vote in support of the “overwhelming evidence” — a majority who spoke in opposition to the Starbucks — instead of the small minority who supported it.

“A dentist spoke at the meeting about having a hard time hiring employees because of parking,” Worthington said. “He had to reduce the size of his business because of this, and every day, half of his customers are complaining they have to go blocks away to find a place to park.”

Although the City Council voted against granting a permit, Starbucks can apply for a new permit for this location if they find a way to meet the parking requirement in the future. The alternative is to find an entirely new location.

“There are lots of other places in Berkeley that would love to have a Starbucks,” Worthington said. “But this is a horrible intersection, one of the worst in the city of Berkeley for traffic and parking.”

Contact Taryn Smith at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @@tarynshelby.

A previous version of this article may have implied that the three votes not in favor of denying Starbucks’ business permit were “yes” votes. In fact, those council members abstained.