Safeway to Unveil Latest Design for College Avenue Store

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday March 31, 2009 - 10:18:00 PM

Safeway will unveil the latest design for its College Avenue store April 29 at the Claremont Hotel in Oakland, even as neighbors complain that they are being left out in the cold. 

The supermarket chain’s latest proposal comes in the wake of a long series of public meetings held to discuss community concerns about the scale of the proposed expansion and its threat to local independent businesses. 

In an e-mail to College Avenue neighbors today, Elisabeth Jewel of Aroner, Jewel and Ellis, the consultants hired by Safeway to do community outreach, said that “updated and modified plans” for a new store and retail space at College and Claremont would be shown at the meeting. 

“Come take a look at what we are planning for you in a new, light-filled, energy-efficient building with lots of free parking for everyone,” wrote Jewel, who is on vacation and did not return calls for comment. 

Safeway's plans to remodel the existing 25,000-square-foot location met with loud opposition at a community meeting at the Peralta Elementary School last June, prompting company officials to arrange a series of “stakeholders meetings” to arrive at a consensus about the size, scale and design of a new store and accompanying small shops. 

Facilitated by Pamela Hopkins, managing partner of Berkeley-based ENACT Global Consulting, the meetings saw representatives from the Rockridge Community Planning Council, the Claremont Elmwood Neighborhood Association, the Rockridge District Association, Concerned Neighbors of College Avenue Safeway and College Avenue merchants discuss and debate the proposed design with Safeway officials. 

Susan Shawl of Concerned Neighbors, a group opposing Safeway’s expansion plans, said that she had been disappointed by these meetings. 

“Safeway said they wanted to listen to us but they are totally stonewalling us now,” said Shawl, adding that the grocery chain had not yet rescheduled the last stakeholders meeting that was supposed to take place Dec. 10. 

Esperanza Greenwood, director of public affairs and government relations for Safeway’s Northern California division, did not return calls by the Planet's Tuesday deadline.  

“Independent stakeholders have not had any word about this process ending,” Shawl said. “We really wanted to work with Safeway. We are not against them. If this was Whole foods, we would have done the same. It’s nothing personal—it has to do with out-of-scale development in a residential neighborhood.” 

More than two weeks after the fifth meeting on Oct. 22, Jewel sent the stakeholders an e-mail saying that Safeway had hired a new architect, Ken Lowney, for the project. 

Last April Safeway replaced architect Kirk Peterson with San Francisco-based MCG Architects. 

“After the most recent stakeholders meeting last November, the Safeway team decided to take a deep breath and evaluate next steps,” Jewel said. 

“We recommitted ourselves to taking the time needed to come up with the best-designed proposal we could—even if that meant delaying coming back to the stakeholders and community members with a new plan.” 

Lowney, Jewel said, would bring decades of experience to the project, having designed markets, offices and mixed-use developments all over the Bay Area, including converting the old Cadillac dealership on Harrison Street in Oakland into a Whole Foods store. 

“Safeway is confident that this local architecture firm can deliver a store that will be successful for Safeway while honoring the long-established values of College Avenue, Oakland," Jewel said. “Ken is fortunate to have a detailed record of your comments and concerns expressed during each stakeholder meeting and in your many e-mails. He will use this record to inform the design, taking into account the unique needs and perspectives of neighbors, merchants, residents and many others who care very deeply about this neighborhood.” 

Lowney is scheduled to meet with a neighborhood architects group Wednesday to discuss the design. 

Shawl said Safeway had not discussed any details about the store’s design during the stakeholders’ meetings, spending time mainly on less important things, such as bicycle racks and landscaping. 

“We asked them what their bottom line was as far as size at the first meeting and they came back with a bunch of flowery words with nothing about the size,” Shawl said. “Some people think this was a waste of time. I am not sure whether it was or wasn’t but am disappointed at the way Safeway ignored neighborhood opinion.” 

Safeway officials said at earlier meetings that they would like to convert the building into a "lifestyle store," a concept that involves softer lighting, sleek modern counters and shelves and earthier tones for the walls and floors. 

They have defended their need to expand by pointing to the stores lack of a full-service meat counter, extensive organic produce section and flower shop—services some neighbors contend are already present across the street at the smaller niche shops. 

“I am very frustrated. All these meetings didn’t seem to have resulted in anything,” said Stuart Flashman, chair of the Rockridge Community Planning Council, which opposed the scale of the project. 

“I wish they would listen to the community first. Maybe the meetings were not heading in the direction they wanted, so they dropped it.” 

Shawl said she would still go to the meeting at the Claremont Hotel to see the new plans. 

“Of course I am going to be there,” she said. 

Safeway plans to submit a formal application to the City of Oakland to begin the entitlement process after the meeting. 

Safeway will be displaying the new drawings and architectural renderings for the College Avenue neighborhood store from 7-9 p.m. Wednesday, April 29, at the Claremont Hotel on Ashby Avenue. Neighbors are encouraged to walk to the meeting if possible. Parking will be available from 6:30-9:30 p.m.