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June 1 Demolition Will Pave Way For Trader Joe’s Building

By Richard Brenneman
Tuesday April 08, 2008

Demolition of the strip mall at the corner of University Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Way will begin June 1, said developer Chris Hudson. Some preliminary dismantling of the building is already visible. 

However, the city has yet to issue the final demolition permit, the last step legally required before the wrecking ball can wreak its havoc, and the city’s approval of the project still faces a court challenge.  

Leveling of the strip mall that once housed an auto parts store and a pet supply shop is the first stage in the construction of the project popularly known as the Trader Joe’s building, but more formally named The Old Grove, after the previous name of MLK Way.  

Hudson discounted rumors that the five-story, block-long project had been canceled, with only the popular grocery store to go into a remodeled mall. 

“We’re working on the project right now,” said Hudson. “Nothing has changed, and everything is on track.” 

The project will feature four floors totaling 148 apartments above a ground-floor grocery store and parking area. 

The city’s approval of the project is still the subject of a civil lawsuit filed by project neighbors on Berkeley Way, the residential street bordering the planned building on the north. 

Steve Wollmer of Friends of Berkeley Way said a decision on the litigation is due in the weeks ahead. 

His action would return the building permit application to city officials for review of two key issues involving parking and traffic. Traffic to and from the store is expected to peak at times when commuter traffic is heaviest, and could fill up spaces in the store’s indoor lot and spill over onto neighborhood streets, a long-time concern of neighbors. 

Controversy over the building’s size and mass was one of the main reasons cited by Zoning Adjustments Board members when they decided to form a subcommittee to examine the city’s density bonus policies and come up with proposals for drawing up a city ordinance. 

Later expanded by the City Council to include members of the Planning and Housing Advisory commissions, the panel came up with recommendations that will be considered by the Planning Commission for adoption Tuesday night. 

A key concern was that the structure was allowed to exceed size limits because city staff said the increases were justified by the developers adding parking for the grocery store, which staff had deemed a public benefit meriting greater size and more income-generating apartments. 

Members of the subcommittee favored a policy which would grant excess size only in return for adding new housing for low-income tenants. 

A second, less restrictive set of recommendations prepared by city staff is also up for consideration at the meeting. It is a repeat of the staff proposal that city councilmembers opted to adopt in November 2006 when confronted by a state ballot measure that would have radically restricted the ability of local governments to regulate land use. 

The council adopted the staff proposal as law, with a sunset provision that voided the law soon after the state measure failed. 

Another measure, Proposition 98, on the statewide June ballot, is behind the latest effort to adopt a sunsetting density law. Opponents believe that it could outlaw both local zoning and rent control under the pretext of banning the use of eminent domain to take private homes for development.  

Meanwhile, Planning Commission members will continue to work on the density ordinance on the premise that 98 will fail. A Berkeley committee, including some planning commissioners, is now forming to oppose Proposition 98 and promote Proposition 99 as a better, less restrictive alternative.