The new Berkeley Bowl planned for the corner of Ninth Street and Heinz Avenue in West Berkeley “would not result in any significant and unavoidable impacts,” according to the conclusion of the massive draft environmental impact report (EIR) prepared by Christopher A. Joseph & Associates, a Petaluma consulting firm.
The 90,970-square-foot project includes two buildings, a 83,900-square-foot market building and a 7,070-square-foot food services building. Both two-story buildings will be 40 feet high. Beneath the larger building will be a 99-space parking lot, with an additional 102-space surface lot.
Before the project can be built, the City Council must amend the city’s General Plan and zoning ordinance designating a 1.9-acre portion as Avenue Commercial followed by an ordinance change to rezone the land as West Berkeley Commercial.
The land that would house a proposed warehouse to serve both the new and the existing stores doesn’t require a change from its current Manufacturing-Light Industrial (MU-LI) zoning but would require an amendment to the zoning ordinance.
The document singled out four primary areas of concern: air quality, hydrology and water quality, land use and planning and transportation/traffic.
The report’s authors concluded that:
• There won’t be any significant increase in toxic air contaminants when the new store is up and running, and dust and other potential impacts arising from construction can be reduced to insignificance by implementing a series of mitigation efforts.
• Impacts on underground water quality, and runoff from the site can be resolved through control measures.
• Project impacts related to conflicts with applicable land use plans, policies, and regulations would be insignificant.
• The project is consistent with the goals of the city’s General and West Berkeley plans.
• The developer should be responsible for installing a new traffic light at the intersection of San Pablo and Heinz avenues to reduce traffic impacts to an acceptable level for San Pablo Avenue.
• The Ninth Street stop sign at Potter Street should be eliminated to reduce traffic queues, and left turns from Potter on to Ninth should be banned.
• The project will cause a 2 to 3 percent increase in use of on- and off-ramps at the Ashby Avenue/I-580 interchange, a less-than-significant level, according to the report.
• Delivery vehicles should arrive and depart before 11 a.m. to alleviate potential traffic problems.
EIRs must include alternatives to the project under consideration, and one proposal offered was relocation of the facility from West Berkeley to Emeryville. The report’s authors then rejected the site because owner Glen Yasuda doesn’t own it, the City of Berkeley has no jurisdiction over the site, site conditions haven’t been assessed and the relocation wouldn’t mesh with the project’s objectives.
The report also considered reducing the scale of the project at the existing site but rejected that option because a smaller facility “would be a convenience store rather than a full service supermarket,” and thus inconsistent with the owner’s intent.
Two other alternatives were analyzed, the first a 50,000-square-foot, single-story light industrial and manufacturing building. While the facility would generate less traffic than a supermarket, the EIR rejected the proposal because it hasn’t been proposed and because it’s unlikely given the current land prices and market demand in the area.
Another alternative offered was a 150,000-square-foot office building, similarly rejected because it hasn’t been contemplated by the city or the owner. Both were also rejected because they didn’t meet the owner’s intent to provide a full-service grocery store.
The EIR also includes public comments received during preparations for both the EIR and the initial study which preceded it.
Neil Mayer, the founding director of the city’s Office of Economic Development and later community development director, raised his objections in a Feb. 9 letter drafted in response to the initial study. Now a private consultant, Mayer was instrumental in the creation of the West Berkeley Plan.
While the EIR declared the project consistent with the plan, providing the requisite plan and zoning changes were approved, Mayer disagreed, noting that the plan calls for maintaining the existing MU-LI areas and enforcement of “prohibitions against retail uses” in the MU-LI district.
“Plainly, the goal of the plan is to avoid any losses of manufacturing,” he wrote.
He also cited the General Plan’s Economic Development element, which calls on the city to “continue to implement the West Berkeley Plan, with its emphasis on strengthening the city’s manufacturing sector.” Most of the comments focused on the initial study, a less thorough document than the EIR.
Writing of behalf of Zelda Bronstein, former Planning Commission chair and a Public Eye columnist for the Berkeley Daily Planet, Oakland attorney Stuart M. Flashman said the initial study failed “to take into account the light industrial areas. In particular, light industrial uses can be severely constrained by having adjoining, or even nearby, non-industrial areas.”
Flashman wrote that the study also “fails to consider the potential cumulative impact of the proposed use change in conjunction with other rezonings that would likely follow.”
Eugenie P. Thomson, a consulting civil and traffic engineer, wrote on behalf of several West Berkeley businesses, including Urban Ore, Ashby Lumber, Inkworks, Aerosol Dynamics and Meyer Sound.
“The 90,00-plus-square-foot store on a parcel significantly smaller than most grocery stores at the corner of two minor streets could result in major parking overflow and traffic impacts onto the neighboring streets,” Thomson declared.
She proposed two alternatives for consideration in the EIR, a store the same size as the 30,000-square-foot structure originally proposed by Yasuda for the site, and a store the same size as the 50,000-square-foot Pak N Save at 40th and San Pablo.
She faulted the initial study for using 2003 statistics as the base for traffic condition studies—the same baseline used in the EIR—because the store won’t open until 2008 to 2010. The study also excluded the warehouse area from the store’s total area, which she said violated the standards of the Institute of Transportation Engineers.
“The analysis produced no impacts association with this large project, which in fact would generate 6,000 to 8,000 cars per day in an area that already has significant traffic congestion and parking shortfalls,” Thomson wrote.
Public review period
Members of the public have until Nov. 21 to offer comments and suggestions for drafting the final EIR document.
Comments should be addressed to Principal Planner Allan Gatzke, City of Berkeley, 2180 Milvia St., 1st floor, Berkeley 94704.