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Peet’s Makes Pitch to Open on Telegraph

By Suzanne La Barre
Tuesday July 11, 2006

A proposal to perk up Telegraph Avenue with a new Peet’s Coffee and Tea is in the works. 

But developers must first convince Zoning Adjustments Board members to approve the project—though planning staff has recommended they reject it—on Thursday. 

The coffee shop, slated for development in the Mrs. Edmund P. King Building, a Berkeley landmark on Telegraph at Dwight Way, would require variances for defying city code, which limits the size and number of quick-serve restaurants in the district. 

John Gordon of Gordon Commercial Real Estate owns the property. He could not be reached by press time as he was out of town.  

More than 40 quick-serve restaurants pepper the business district, though Berkeley Municipal Code stipulates a cap of 30. Code also requires restaurants to be 1,500 square-feet or smaller; the proposed coffee shop is 1,710 square-feet. 

City planning staff have recommended that the board deny the project because no special circumstances exist to warrant further extention of the restaurant quota. Moreover, the building could accommodate other commercial uses that are not subject to size limitations, they say. 

City project planner Charity Wagner did not return a call for comment.  

Project proponents are also seeking administrative use permit exemptions from parking and sidewalk seating requirements. 

The property is a two-story Colonial Revival structure, built in 1901 and designated a city of Berkeley landmark in 2004. Krishna Copy formerly occupied the commercial space. (It has since moved down the street.) 

Project developers plan to renovate the building, which was in poor condition when purchased, Gordon wrote in a memo. Crome Architecture, a firm based in Fairfax that has restored several historic structures, is signed on to do the refurbishments. 

Peet’s Coffee and Tea was established in 1966. Since Alfred Peet founded the first shop at Vine and Walnut streets, Peet’s has expanded to 120 stores in metropolitan areas across the country, and attracts a steady following of “Peetniks,” faithful imbibers of the company product. 

Some say the arrival of Peet’s could spell revival for Telegraph Avenue, where business has been on the decline. The street lays claim to an 11 percent store vacancy rate; the closure of Cody’s flagship store Monday is the most recent and emblematic casualty. 

Peet’s wouldn’t necessarily generate much sales tax revenue, said city Community Development Coordinator Dave Fogarty, but it offers other benefits. “I think it would attract a lot of people who don’t ordinarily come to Telegraph,” he said. “It also upgrades the whole image of the area. Peet’s is a very prestigious company.” 

Resident Mallory Johnson considers Peet’s a good bet for the empty storefront. 

“I am a homeowner … and have been concerned about conditions on Telegraph,” she said in a July 5 letter to planning staff. “The pending closure of Cody’s is a big loss to the neighborhood and businesses such as Peet’s can really help to revitalize the area. Without interest from such businesses, I fear that the stretch of Telegraph will go downhill further.” 

Though city councilmembers cannot comment on specific projects, District 7 Councilmember Kriss Worthington lamented the manner in which the city’s zoning process exacts an undue burden on burgeoning businesses. 

“There are many problems with the city’s permit system, which makes it hard or impossible for a business to get in, even when there’s overwhelming support,” he said.