Safeway representatives unveiled plans to upgrade their Solano Avenue store at the Northbrae Community Church Tuesday, and they got an earful from Berkeley and Albany neighbors, who voiced concerns about aesthetics, parking and the size of the proposed project.
The plan proposes to convert 29,000 square feet of space into 58,000 square feet, with an additional 9,447 square feet of retail space.
The $35 million project is part of the supermarket’s nationwide capital improvement campaign to “lifestyle” all their stores by 2010, and provide a more exciting upscale shopping experience for its customers, including a bigger organic produce selection and a bakery.
Safeway Stores Inc. planner Todd Paradis promised neighbors the upgrade would outshine Andronico’s on Solano, but some of the 40 or so people at the meeting said they were unwilling to risk losing their privacy, parking and small-town neighborhood feel for the sake of change.
Paradis said a lot of Solano residents had asked for an urban store with easy pedestrian access.
The proposed project will be three stories tall, with subterranean parking, street level retail, outdoor seating and pedestrian-friendly sidewalks, Paradis said.
Safeway will be on the second floor.
The overall development, including parking and retail, will be 160,312 square feet—almost eight times the size of the current store size. Safeway is also asking Albany for a variance to allow them to exceed the permissible height limit (35 feet) to 49 feet.
“The new store will give you a much different product,” Paradis said.
According to Paradis, the new store will have a more comfortable layout, with a bakery, deli and seafood section and a bigger aisle for organic produce.
A few people laughed when Paradis showed pictures of the current seafood section, acknowledging that it was in desperate need of an upgrade.
Safeway’s preliminary proposal will be discussed at the Albany Planning Commission at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Safeway also plans to expand its College Avenue store—which has met with stiff opposition from College and Claremont Avenue neighbors—and its store on Shattuck Avenue.
Adam Duhan, who has practiced internal medicine on Solano since 1985, and owns three buildings right next to Safeway, said he was ambivalent toward the project.
“I can see the moon rise above the hills from where I am now, but all that will be entirely eliminated by that structure,” he said. “It’s an imposing monolith. But ultimately I am a New Yorker and I am used to big buildings. I am not opposed to development if it’s an improvement to the area. I think people are concerned about privacy and whether it will be an attractive project.”
Duhan said he was concerned about the underground parking lot and whether Safeway would allow the community to park there if they shopped or dined elsewhere.
“The issue for a lot of people is underground parking,” he said. “There is a notion of suspicion related to underground parking.”
Paradis said video cameras would be provided in the parking lot, and in the case of a security breach, the company would even hire security guards.
“If we can’t make that parking lot safe for you, our retail and sales will suffer,” he said. “People will want to go somewhere else for their groceries and we don’t want that to happen.”
A total of 205 parking spots will be available, with 80 at the street level, and 125 at the lower level.
“My hunch is, that with 205 parking spaces, people will be able to park there even if they are not shopping at Safeway,” Paradis said.
In an e-mail to Solano Avenue neighbors, Curtis Street residents John and Bettina Fox expressed concern about impacts on traffic from increased delivery vehicles and customer trips.
Paradis said an increase in store sales would not impact deliveries.
Zelda Bronstein, who shops regularly at the Solano Safeway, said she was concerned that the proposed project would remove the parking lot from the front of the store.
“The parking lot needs to be reconfigured, but they are talking about removing the parking, not reconfiguring it,” she said, adding that she was against an underground parking lot.
Bronstein said Safeway had met with neighbors in 2005, but had refused to address their concerns.
“It’s like this giant cooperation trying to squeeze every penny out of the site,” she said. “Why are we having community meetings when no one is listening to our concerns? It’s like window dressing.”
Paradis said Safeway would continue to tweak its plans after getting feedback from its neighbors.
“These are preliminary plans people can throw their darts at,” he said. “It’s a work in progress.”
For more information on the 1500 Solano Ave. Safeway expansion plans visit: www.safewayonsolano.com
Study session at the Albany Planning Commission meeting Tuesday, June 24, 2008, at 7:30 p.m., at 1249 Marin Ave.
For information on the 1444 Shattuck Ave. Safeway expansion plans visit: www.safewayonshattuck.com
Public meeting on Wednesday, June 25, 2008, at 6:30 p.m., at the Hillside Club, 2286 Cedar St.
For more information on the Claremont and College Safeway visit: www.safewayoncollege.com
Public meeting on Thursday, June 19, 2008 at 7 p.m., Peralta Elementary School Gym, 460 63rd St., Oakland.