Safeway Unveils New Plans for College Avenue Store

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday April 30, 2009 - 07:32:00 PM

Safeway was set to unveil the latest design for its College Avenue store at a public meeting at the Claremont Hotel Wednesday, April 29, after the Daily Planet went to press. 

The grocery chain’s proposal to remodel and expand the 25,000-square-foot ‘60s-era store has met with fierce opposition from neighbors since the plan was first announced in July 2007. 

Area residents complained that the new supermarket would take business away from the neighborhood’s small, locally owned shops, several of which specialize in the products and services Safeway wants to introduce in its expanded operation. 

Other concerns included traffic, congestion and the overall scale of the project, which critics said would lessen or destroy the Claremont neighborhood’s smalltown charm. 

However, Safeway officials have pressed on with their plans, part of a nationwide effort to revamp stores by introducing full-service meat and fish counters, florists, and organic produce, among other services and products. 

Safeway hosted a number of community and stakeholder meetings to address criticisms and concerns regarding the College Avenue store, none of which led to a resolution. 

After trying out two different architecture firms, the company brought in local architect Ken Lowney, who the company said would be more sensitive to neighborhood concerns. Lowney met with a group of local architects last month to discuss the project and get feedback. 

In a recent e-mail to neighbors, Elisabeth Jewel, of Aroner, Jewel and Ellis, the political consultants hired by Safeway to coordinate community outreach, said Safeway will show “updated and modified plans” for a new store and retail space at the April 29 meeting. 

She called the new building a “new, light-filled, energy-efficient building with lots of free parking for everyone.” Jewel did not return calls for comment by press time. 

Susan Shawl, of Concerned Neighbors of College Avenue Safeway, accused the supermarket chain of pulling a fast one. 

“We don’t know diddly about the meeting, except for what’s on the website,” she said. “I expect they are going to wine and dine everybody a bit and really just show the drawings. I don’t think they are going to give us a chance to comment. In the past they have been so not interested in listening to people, or allowing much communication. We have absolutely no idea about what’s going to happen at the meeting—they have been very close-mouthed.” 

Esperanza Greenwood, director of public affairs and government relations for Safeway’s Northern California division, did not return calls for comment by press time. 

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

“Our fear is they are going to go to the planning commission without taking in comment from the community who have been involved all along,” Shawl said. 

She said neighbors weren’t necessarily opposed to an upgrade, but wanted to see a smaller store than the one proposed, and one which would not cause traffic problems. 

“We have enough congestion there already,” Shawl said. 

The Safeway on College website says the new building will have accompanying shops, something Rockridge Community Planning Council Chair Stu Flashman said his organization had mixed feelings about. 

“If there weren’t small shops there already, it would be different,” he said. “But with more shops, can you think of the traffic it’s going to generate?” 

Flashman said the Rockridge Community Planning Council was still concerned about the project. 

“We still haven’t seen anything to indicate it’s going to be small,” he said. “At the last stakeholders’ meeting, Safeway told us they considered 50,000 square feet to be the bottom line. I don’t think they have changed that perspective. But I’ll be at the meeting to find out.” 

Safeway was expected to display the new drawings and architectural renderings for the College Avenue neighborhood store from 7-9 p.m. at the Claremont Hotel. Check www.berkeleydailyplanet.com for updates.