It was déjà vu all over again for supermarket chain Safeway when it unveiled plans to remodel its north Shattuck Avenue store at the Hillside Club last week.
More than 50 Berkeley residents turned up at the June 25 meeting to oppose the multi-million dollar project, which proposes to convert the existing 28,763-square-foot store to 77,850 square feet. Neighbors of the chain’s Rockridge and Solano Avenue stores demonstrated opposition to similar expansion plans for those stores in the past few weeks.
The ones that did favor the remodelling of the Shattuck Avenue store either asked Safeway to either scale back the size or lobbied for housing on top of the store.
Safeway’s website informs visitors that its remodeled “lifestyle stores” will offer a seemingly endless array of products in an upscale environment, complete with softer lighting and wood-simulated floors.
Built in 1965, the Berkeley Safeway is located in the Gourmet Ghetto, directly across the street from neighborhood shops such as Black Oak Books and Masse’s Pastries. Parking is situated underground and at the street level and there are three driveways located on Shattuck and two on Henry Street. The store has 100 employees, a number that will double once the upsizing is complete. Parking will continue to remain on both levels, with 90 spots on the street level, and 122 underground.
The new plan proposes 12,950 square feet of retail space on the first floor with outdoor seating, bike racks and a ramp, and a Safeway on the second floor surrounded by a glass facade.
The design, some neighbors commented, has less of a “neighborhood feel” than the one for the Rockridge store, located at the intersection of Claremont and College avenues.
North Shattuck residents, activists and merchants voiced concerns about traffic, safety and the environment and said the retail stores would take business away from local independent merchants, some of whom are already having a tough time surviving.
“In terms of offering flowers, does that mean it will drive out our local flower shop in front of the bus stop?,” asked a neighbor. “If Safeway wants to do something innovative, it should rent out space to our local farmers. We could have eggs from Petaluma instead of products from all over the country being shipped to Safeway.”
Some neighbors called the project “a monolith” and an “architectural monstrosity.”
“It’s just not North Berkeley,” said Jane White, a neighbor. “Here we are desperately trying to recycle ... Obviously you have to clean up the store but going from 20,000 square feet to 77,000 just doesn’t make any sense.”
Art Goldberg, another neighbor, said the project was slated for failure because it was out of character with the neighborhood.
“According to the zoning code, you are not supposed to create more traffic in a residential neighborhood, which it clearly will,” he said. “I have no illusions Safeway will change this plan because they have made some deal with City Hall already.”
Todd Paradis, Safeway Inc.’s real estate manager, made the pitch that the expansion would help Safeway compete against upcoming developments such as Whole Foods on San Pablo Avenue, Trader Joe’s on University Avenue and Berkeley Bowl in West Berkeley.
“This one has the least amount of services than our other projects,” Paradis said, adding that the store lacked a bakery, a pharmacy and a meat-carving station. “We also have a pretty tight floral section. We have been putting more stress on our organic produce for the last few years. The meat is packaged and you get stuck as a shopper there. A big part of this expansion is just spreading out the aisles.”
Paradis also showed pictures of an expanded deli, which he said would include a full line of soups and cheeses and prepared meals.
“The smell of bread baking changes the ambiance of the store,” he said, showing slides of freshly baked bread stacked neatly along wooden aisles.
Other features include improving cart traffic, adding more organic and natural food choices, expanding the sidewalk from eight feet to 12, and an abundance of trees along Shattuck and Henry.
Safeway also wants to remove the recycling center on their lot, which some neighbors said would be an improvement.
Paradis said the plan was still in its preliminary stage and that Safeway would submit an application with the City of Berkeley’s Planning Department in August.
He added that permits and other approvals would take up to 18 months and that the remodeled store, which will be Safeway’s first LEED compliant building, will open for business in 2012.
Dorothy Walker, a former Berkeley planning commissioner , pressed for residential development on top of the store.
“We need to think about global warming,” Walker, who has lived in Berkeley for 50 years, said.
“We need to do the right thing for people by providing housing, and not just provide them with a newer version of the 1965 store.”
Mark Rhoades, the city’s former planning manager, also asked Safeway to rethink its design in order to add apartments above the store.
“This site deserves a better vision,” he said. “The project has a very big box feel to it. This is a fantastic site for housing, it will be a travesty if you didn’t have residences here. You won’t get away with just retail and a Safeway store.”
Others said housing was voted down at an earlier community meeting with Safeway since neighbors had expressed concern it would increase density in the North Shattuck corridor.