ZAB to Decide on Bowl EIR, Use Permit

By Suzanne La Barre
Tuesday May 09, 2006

There are two days to go before the Zoning Adjustments Board is scheduled to render a verdict on use permits for the West Berkeley Bowl project, but at a special meeting late last week, board members indicated they still have a number of concerns. 

On Thursday, board members had not yet received copies of a final environmental impact report (EIR), the study that forms the basis for whether they will issue use permits for the development of West Berkeley Bowl. (The report is now available online.) 

The proposed project is slated for development at 920 Heinz Ave. It comprises 91,060-square-feet of grocery store space, storage, offices, a food service building, a community room and 211 parking spaces. The surrounding community hosts a variety of structures, including light manufacturing warehouses, professional offices, retail shops, live/work spaces and a French-American school that serves about 400 students between the ages of 3 and 11. 

Traffic has been a persistent bone of contention in the debate over West Berkeley Bowl.  

“I think 99 percent of the people are for this project, many 100 percent,” said Sarah Klise, who lives half a block from the proposed site. “But with a huge asterisk, and that is traffic.” 

The project would generate about 600 vehicle trips a day during peak hours and would spawn additional traffic at multiple intersections. Most of that gridlock can be mitigated, the EIR claims. However, the intersection of San Pablo Avenue and Ashby Avenue would suffer significant and unavoidable congestion. 

Some residents say impacts will be felt beyond what’s laid out in the environmental report. 

Members of the Potter Creek Neighborhood Association, comprised of nearby neighbors, submitted their own traffic mitigation plan to board members Thursday. Features of the residents’ proposal include removable bollards near the French-American School at Ninth Street and Heinz Avenue (kitty corner to the proposed development) to ensure the safety of the school’s students. Dozens of residents, the French-American school and the Berkeley Bowl support the plan. 

Associate traffic engineer Peter Eakland said transportation staff could submit comments on the mitigation proposal, but he does not foresee formally trying it into the project. 

Others suggested shrinking the development to mitigate traffic. Traffic consultant Kerrie Nicholson said the project would have to be significantly smaller to effectively relieve congestion. 

An alternative project proposal—similar to what developers initially put forward in 2002—would comprise a 37,005-square-foot grocery store, a 28,810-square-foot warehouse and 111 parking spaces. This would not allow for a full-service supermarket, however. An additional alternative would reduce the project to 72,758 square feet, but would not eliminate the traffic impact at San Pablo and Ashby.  

ZAB member Andy Katz offered a different solution to the traffic problem: charge developers an impact fee. 

Fellow ZAB member Rick Judd seconded the idea. 

“That there are obviously a lot of effects of this project, that, while not significant, are nonetheless real, supports an impact fee,” he said. 

They did not specify what the fee would offset, nor how much it would be. 

Outstanding traffic issues are not cause for concern for everyone. Marvin Lipofsky, an artist who lives in the area, wants the city to hurry up and approve the project.  

“Please put Berkeley Bowl on the site before I kick off, which could be soon,” he said. “I think [the project] is great.” 

ZAB members have asked staff for clarity on a number of traffic issues and others that they hope to get resolved Thursday. The board may decide to issue use permits then. If granted, the Berkeley City Council could certify ZAB’s action May 23 and would subsequently set a public hearing for the project June 13. The public hearing would include consideration of zoning adjustments recommended by the Planning Commission..