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Safeway to Rebuild Shattuck Store

By Richard Brenneman
Tuesday June 05, 2007

Rounds of applause punctuated occasionally by bouts of “boos”—enough to prompt a scolding from City Councilmember Laurie Capitelli—greeted varied proposals for Safeway’s planned North Shattuck Avenue makeover at a meeting Thursday evening at the Jewish Community Center. 

The loudest boo choruses from the standing-room-only crowd targeted a plea from Livable Berkeley, the meeting’s sponsor, for the new building to rise to at least three or four floors, with housing on the upper levels. 

But Todd Paradis, real estate manager for the grocery giant, told the crowd that the firm’s earlier proposal to build housing and a new market at the site of its store at 1500 Solano Ave. in Albany “went over like a lead balloon. We reeled it back in and said, ‘not today.’” 

The suggestion of housing above the new store at 1444 Shattuck Ave. had been raised in a letter from Berkeley developer Chris Hudson to Paradis urging construction of 50 to 100 units of housing above the store. 

But Paradis said housing “was not our plan, and if we’re not forced to do housing on top, we would not advance it because it makes the project more difficult.” 

Applause followed, and there would be boos later in the meeting when Livable Berkeley board member Jim Orajala rose to advocate for housing over the store. 

The North Shattuck store will probably still feature three levels, Paradis said, consisting of underground parking, the main shopping area and an upper level for offices. City codes restrict the total height to 35 feet, he said. 

Safeway has already hired Berkeley architects Marcy Wong and Donn Logan for the job, a firm whose local projects include the Berkeley Repertory Theater and the new Berkeley High School gymnasium.  

Paradis said he envisions a radical new store, both inside and out. Compared to the 27,000-plus square feet of the existing store, the new market would occupy 45,000 to 50,000 square feet and offer a dramatically different array of goods. 

Organic produce, wider aisles, a make-your-own nut-butter bar, wrapped-to-order meats and fresh fish, a bakery and a deli are likely features of the new facility, he said, which will take about a year to build and open sometime in 2011-2012. 

And if all goes the way Paradis hopes, the reincarnated retailer will be a truly “green” grocer, built to strict environmentally friendly standards and generating its own wind and, perhaps, solar power. 

Safeway’s latest television ads boast of the wind generators incorporated into store designs, and Paradis testified to their benevolence. “They’re not the type of windmills that chop birds up,” he said. 

When solar advocate Harvey Sherback advocated solar panels for the store’s roof—to be used either for resale or for charging the batteries of electric or hybrid vehicles—Paradis suggested Berkeley’s climate might not be suited for solar panels. 

Then David Stoloff spoke up, a planning commissioner whose office is near the store: “I put solar on the roof of my building, and it has cut our power bills in half.” Paradis promised to investigate. 

While the thought of an environmentally sensitive business offering both union wages for its workers and edibles that meet the exacting culinary criteria of Berkeley’s sophisticated shoppers was clearly popular—the only bad thing anyone could say about Safeway was the corporation’s strong financial backing for Republicans—most in the overwhelmingly gray-haired crowd were sweating the details. 

One Livable Berkeley idea did fare well with the crowd, a call for a lively retail facade along the sidewalk on the west side of Shattuck. 

A neighbor suggested siting the store’s fish market there, and perhaps a deli—ideas Paradis said he found particularly intriguing. 

A landlord who owns apartments on Vine Street directly behind the store said some of her tenants had said noise and dust concerns had led them to say they would move out if construction began. 

Paradis said construction would be staged, and promised measures to control dust and noise, particular concerns of long-time residents of Henry Street, which runs directly behind the store. 

The Safeway official promised immediate neighbors a meeting of their own where they could share their concerns in greater detail. 

While the store currently has some underground parking, one Henry Street resident asked the store to locate all parking in the new store underground, with an entrance on Shattuck. Other shoppers said they wouldn’t park in an underground lot because of safety concerns, and when Paradis said the store could have employees stationed in the lot, another shopper said she feared they’d be the first to go if layoffs ever came. 

Another alternative suggested was locating whatever above-ground parking remained between the proposed sidewalk-fronting stores and the main store body. 

But for the immediate neighbors, traffic was the enduring concern, especially at the intersections of Rose and Henry streets with Shattuck. One neighbor also called for restrictions on delivery hours. 

Other concerns and suggestions included: 

• A call from Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee member Dorothy Walker and two others for a shuttle service for shoppers, especially those who live in the hills where bus service is less than frequent. 

• A request to clean up and perhaps relocate a store recycling center that Paradis acknowledged could stand improvements. 

• A lowered height for upper shelves. 

Paradis promised to create a web site and post regular updates as the project progresses. 

“I’ll put a button on the District Five web site for updates and notices about future meetings,” said Capitelli, where one and all could make their requests known. I want no-calorie potato chips.” 

The councilmember ended the meeting by chiding the audience. 

“I want to give you one opportunity to boo me,” he said. “I personally don’t find booing people who are expressing their views a very civil thing to do,” he said, urging applause for agreement and silence for the dissent. “We’re not all going to get our way.” 

Silence followed.