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Plans Unveiled for Gourmet Ghetto Plaza

By Richard Brenneman
Tuesday October 03, 2006

Backers of a pedestrian plaza along North Shattuck Avenue between Vine and Rose streets are ready to seek funds for the project, the project’s leading proponents say. 

David Stoloff and Helene Villet, chair and vice chair of North Shattuck Plaza Inc., will formally unveil project plans Sunday at the Spice of Life Festival.  

The festival, open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., will be held along Shattuck from Virginia to Rose streets. 

A community meeting will follow on Oct. 26 to seek comments and critiques to be used in hammering out a final design, said Stoloff, a retired planner who sits on Berkeley’s Planning Commission. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. at the Jewish Community Center of the East Bay, 1414 Walnut St. 

“If all goes well and we find all the funding, the plaza could open by next summer, although that’s probably too optimistic,” said Stoloff. 

The project would radically transform the streetscape in the heart of the Gourmet Ghetto, closing off Shattuck between Vine and Rose and turning the current angle parking and access lane along the eastern side of the avenue into a 50-foot-wide pedestrian walkway with landscaped plantings, two rows of shade trees and benches. 

The walkway would also include more outdoor seating for restaurants along the new plaza. 

The block-long stretch of Shattuck between the triangular Shattuck Commons shopping complex on the west and the Longs Drug parking lot on the east would be transformed into a parking lot, replacing the lost angle parking spaces while still allowing northbound vehicles to travel to Rose Street, albeit at reduced speed. 

“Everything in the plan is on the public right-of-way,” said Stoloff, “and all the parking spaces are replaced. We have met with all the owners and merchants and they’re pretty much on board.” 

The North Shattuck Association, which administers the city-sanctioned business improvement district, put up the funds to update the design and created a designer selection committee from members of the association and the newly formed corporation, which was created in January. 

“We sent invitations to all Berkeley urban and landscape architectural firms,” Stoloff said, ultimately selecting landscape architects Meyer & Silverberg to create the plan. 

“The estimated project cost is $1.5 million,” he said, “but that’s a guesstimate. The designer will have a better number soon.” 

The costliest single item is likely to be a kiosk that would be built between Longs and the avenue near the entrance to the new parking lot, which would feature a food vendor, storage of moveable furniture and a restroom that would be supervised by the vender, Stoloff said. 

“The idea is to have eyes on the plaza with the vendor there,” said Villet. 


Merchant concerns 

While the plan has won the approval of most merchants, Longs still has concerns, Stoloff concedes. 

Fred Shokouh, who owns the Bel Forno cafe in Shattuck Commons, has concerns as well, including vehicle access along the current stretch of Shattuck that would be transformed into a parking lot, and with the kiosk restroom, which he fears could become a magnet for the homeless. 

“What surprises me the most is that they haven’t done a traffic study,” Shokouh said. “This is very surprising. If I wanted to put a nail in the wall of my restaurant, I’m sure they’d want a study. But for this, they haven’t done a study.” 

Shokouh noted that after he installed an automatic teller machine for the convenience of customers, city officials ordered him to remove it because he hadn’t obtained a use permit. 

“They told me it would cost $3,000 and give notice to everyone in the neighborhood and then I would have to go before the City Council, which could turn me down,” he said. “But this was approved in 2001 without a traffic study. But overall, I’m not against it if they are not taking away from my business, especially the parking.” 

Assistant City Manager for Transportation Peter Hillier said that because vehicles can still travel north through the parking lot, there should be no significant changes. 

“That area is already closed off when the Farmers Market is held, and this project will have less impact than that, so there probably isn’t any need,” Hillier said. 

The one aspect Hillier said might require a study is the impact of closing off the Shattuck Avenue entrance to the Longs parking lot, a concern of the retailer’s as well, Stoloff acknowledged. 

As for the farmers’ market, Villet and Stoloff said vendors would probably be accommodated on the new enlarged pedestrian area south of the new lot. 


Project history 

Stoloff said the project has been in the works since the late 1990s, when the city was undertaking major improvements on the avenue itself, fundlargely with federal grant money. 

“They did some cosmetic improvements on the sidewalks and set up an advisory committee of merchants and residents to help formulate a long-range improvement plan for North Shattuck,” Stoloff said. 

The city hired a North Shattuck consultant to do the plan, Design Community & Environment, which drafted a plan for North Shattuck that extended all the way south to Hearst Avenue, with the target area between Vine and Rose. 

The city approved the plan in 2001, but without committing the needed funding. 

“So the plan was shelved until June 2005, when I talked to Heather Hensley, the executive director of the North Shattuck Association, at the Live Oak Fair. She said they had some money they could commit to the project, but not enough. I suggested setting up a citizens’ group to refine the plan in cooperation with the association and then to find the money,” Stoloff said. 

Villet said she has met with enthusiastic responses from Hillier and city Neighborhood Services Liaison Michael Caplan—hardly surprising since the City Council resolution passed last year endorsing the plaza concept was jointly submitted by Councilmembers Dona Spring and Laurie Capitelli, who are frequently at odds on other issues. 

Capitelli serves on the corporation’s board, along with former councilmember Mim Hawley, Hensley, CPA Judith Bloom, attorney and former school board member Lloyd Lee, Walnut Square owner Laszlo Tokes and Margo Lowe of M. Lowe & Co. Jewelers. 

“The project was inspired by the fact that this used to be the terminus for the F Train and light rail,” said Villet, a retired architect. “We’re looking at using wooden planking to recapture the feel of that era.” 

Villet and Stoloff said they wanted the greenest possible design, and one key ingredient is replacing a lot of asphalt and concrete with permeable surfaces that will allow rainwater to seep into the soil rather than burden the city’s already overtaxed storm drains. 

“We’re looking at an organic garden, too—perhaps for children, like Alice Waters is doing with the schools,” Villet said. Waters, Berkeley’s most famous restaurateur, serves on the plaza project’s advisory board. 

More information may be found on the corporation’s website, and on the website of Councilmember Capitelli at