Rockridge neighbors turn out in force to debate Safeway expansion project
on July 21, 2011
Supporters and opponents of a proposed Rockridge Safeway expansion project crammed two hearing rooms at Oakland City Hall for a planning commission meeting on Wednesday evening. The meeting ultimately had to be moved to the bigger city council chambers to accommodate the members of the public who came to comment on the issue.
The Safeway redevelopment project would replace the current 25,000 square-foot store located at the corner of College Avenue and Claremont Avenue with a 62,000 square-foot building that would contain a double-size store and a number of independent retail spaces. A new partially underground garage would also be attached to the building, providing 171 parking spaces for customers.
After a number of public hearings that have been held since the project was first proposed in October 2009, Lowney Architecture, the designer of the new store, released a draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the project on July 1. According to the summary of the report, the project “would not result in a fundamental conflict between adjacent and nearby land uses” and their research did not “reveal any significant adverse cumulative impacts in the area.”
“We saw a great opportunity for sustainable development at this site,” said Graham Hill, a staff architect with Lowney Architecture.
“We’re focusing on a pedestrian-oriented shopping district with public transit accessibility and bicycle connections, ” he continued. “The project ultimately increases the density for sustainable growth in the city.”
However, the draft EIR was far from satisfactory to many attendants of the Wednesday meeting, most of whom wore tags that summed up their opinions of the new project: “It’s too big.” The report, they said, overlooks the significant impact of the project would have on the Rockridge neighborhood.
“The central issue in the evaluation of the project is how it relates to the existing area,” said Zackary Walton, who lives near the Safeway store. Walton said expanding the grocery store doesn’t comply with the city’s zoning plans, which characterize the Rockridge neighborhood as an area for small-scale neighborhood retail shops instead of big box chains. “The supporters claim the project meets this objective—this logic is tortured at best,” he said.
Opponents also believe that it’s a bad idea to increase the size of the store, which would cause additional traffic problems for the already congested area and affect independent small retail businesses. “We don’t need ‘revitalization,’” one speaker told the committee. “Rockridge is already a vital neighborhood.”
But supporters of the expansion believe that a bigger store, along with new retail spaces included in the report, would increase foot traffic to the area and thus benefit other local businesses. “If Safeway’s $10 sheet cake is a threat to La Farine’s fancy cakes, and maybe they need to look at their recipe,” said Jeff Small, a supporter of the project, who spoke before the committee. Small added that he hopes Safeway keeps its promise of keeping the retail spaces affiliated with the new building independent and local.
Although met by mixed reactions, the expansion of the College Avenue store is expected to generate millions of sales tax revenues for the city, Paul Young, a representative of the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, told the committee. “In an economically difficult time, the project is going to bring construction jobs and increase the assessed property values of the building,” Young added.
The project is not Safeway’s only expansion plan in this area. The Pleasanton-based grocery chain is also planning to upsize its store in the Temescal area at the corner of Broadway and Pleasant Valley, approximately one mile away from the College Avenue Safeway. The controversial project has drawn similar concerns about the traffic issues as well as its design, which opponents say would wall the site off from the surrounding community. Another controversy raised by the Temescal project is that is necessitates the shut-down of the neighboring CVS mega-drugstore, colloquially known as the former “Super Longs,” which would likely greet its last group of customers in December.
Due to the large number of speakers who wished to comment on the Rockridge Safeway expansion, the planning commission on Wednesday only had time to hear from some of them. The hearing will continue during the next meeting on August 3. For more information, the public can contact the case planner Peterson Z. Vollmann at 510-238-6167 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story has been amended to make two corrections: The firm that designed the new Safeway store is Lowney Architecture, not Lowney Architects, and comments attributed to principal architect John Skrivanich were instead made by staff architect Graham Hill.
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