Hungry for a place to shop for food but fearful that the proposed West Berkeley Bowl complex will worsen the area’s already snarled traffic, several dozen nearby people came to the Planning Commission’s Wednesday evening public hearing on the project, held at the North Berkeley Senior Center.
The hearing—to elicit comments on a revised draft report projecting the development’s traffic impacts—was part of a formal process leading to the Planning Commission’s public hearing on the Final Environmental Impact Report, expected May 10.
The final report will include consultants’ responses to community concerns expressed at various public hearings or submitted to the Planning Department in writing by April 24.
The City Council’s eventual acceptance or rejection of the project is expected in June or July.
Speaking at the public hearing, where he called the proposal “the entry into Berkeley of the big box,” West Berkeley artisan John Curl cautioned commissioners to “think carefully of what we’re getting into.”
The proposed project at Ninth Street and Heinz Avenue would comprise two buildings: one, of about 84,000 square feet would be a supermarket, with a second story of offices; it would include a 109-space underground parking garage. A smaller building of about 7,000 square feet would have prepared food, seating, and a community room on the second floor. There would be 102 surface parking spaces.
Mary Lou Van Deventer of nearby Urban Ore and Gary Robinson of Meyer Sound echoed Curl’s comments.
“We’ll be one and one-half blocks from a mega-store,” Van Deventer said. Acknowledging the desire of West Berkeley residents for the market, she added: “I’m in favor of the store if it is scaled down.”
Residents of the area, which includes no supermarket, spoke out strongly in favor of the project.
“Most people in my neighborhood cannot believe there’s any opposition,” said Michael Larrick, who lives a few blocks southeast of the proposed store. “Most people are aware that there’s going to be more traffic. They’re willing to deal with that.”
One resident of the San Pablo Park area told commissioners she had collected 50 signatures from her neighbors in an hour and a half in support of the market, with only two in opposition.
“The Berkeley Bowl is a ray of sunshine for everybody who lives in south Berkeley,” said David Snipper, whose residence is close to the proposed project. “We’ve waited for the Berkeley Bowl project to go through.”
He expressed fear, however, that his residential neighborhood and the French American School would be overwhelmed by traffic.
“We want some protection for Eighth Street, Ninth Street and Tenth Street,” he said.
There’s more to alleviating traffic tie-ups than re-engineering streets and signals, said Nancy Jewel Cross, representing Clean Air Transport Systems.
“In Emeryville, there are free shuttles,” she said. “Berkeley needs to think about access other than bicycles and cars.”
To accommodate the project, the area’s light industrial zoning will have to be changed. Rick Auerbach suggested the city come up with new zoning that would allow only grocery stores.
“It it goes out of business, we’ll still have a grocery store,” Auerbach said.
Copies of reports on the project are available at the Permit Service Center at Milvia and Center streets or on line at www.ci.berkeley,ca.us/planning/landuse. Submit comments on the project to the Planning Commission, c/o Aaron Sage, 2120 Milvia St., Berkeley Calif. 94704 or email to email@example.com..