Rockridge Safeway Buys Union 76 Gas Station, Moves Ahead With Expansion Plans

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday November 06, 2009 - 05:08:00 PM

Safeway took ownership of the Union 76 gas station site in Rockridge this week and is moving ahead with plans to incorporate it into a proposed remodeling project for its supermarket at the corner of College and Claremont avenues. 

Todd Paradis, real estate manager for Safeway’s Northern California Division, told the Planet that escrow for the property closed on Tuesday. 

A fence has been constructed around the property since then to prevent loitering and trash from collecting. According to the website www.safewayoncollege.com , created by Safeway to post updates about the development, the fence was erected to prevent the property from turning into a public nuisance. 

The website also reports that Safeway is considering “temporary commercial uses such as an auto repair tenant without gas,” who will rent the site until it is ready to be redeveloped. 

Safeway embarked on a mission to revamp its College Avenue store several years ago, meeting stiff opposition from neighbors regarding size, traffic and other issues. 

Size is still an issue for a number of area residents, many of whom balked at the idea of a 65,000-square-foot shopping center—more than twice the size of the current Safeway. 

Opponents of the plan think the scale is unsuitable and unnecessary for the neighborhood, threatening to change the area’s small-town feel. 

They also say they are worried that an expanded Safeway, with its larger selection of merchandise, would chase away the small independent shops across College Avenue from the supermarket. 

Safeway officials contend that the store, which was built in the 1960s, is long due for an upgrade. 

Some neighbors said they suspect that Safeway is sending a signal that development is “going to happen” by acquiring the gas station. Others are waiting for a chance to go before the Oakland Planning Department to comment on what they think should be included in the project’s environmental impact report. 

Oakland’s Community and Economic Development Agency and Planning and Zoning Division is preparing a draft environmental impact report for the College Avenue Safeway and has invited the public to comment on what they think should be included in the document at a meeting on Nov. 18. 

The city has crafted an initial study that says that the environmental impact report will address transportation, traffic, noise and air quality. 

Susan Shawl of Concerned Neighbors, a neighborhood group opposed to the scale of the project, said that she wanted to voice concerns about zoning and land use at the project. 

The store is in the C-31 or Special Retail zone. 

Shawl said that she did not object to the building’s external design, but is opposed to its scale. The project includes a two-story building with a roof-top garden and a pedestrian walkway next to eight retail stores, 

Safeway also plans to expand its Broadway and 51st Street store, about a mile away from the College Avenue store. 

“Why are they building two stores totaling about 100,000 square feet so close to each other when this area is already so well served?” Shawl asked. “There are parts in east and west Oakland that could use stores like this. I am concerned about the cumulative effect of both stores. What about traffic?” 

Oakland city planner Pete Vollmann told the Planet that a traffic study was being conducted by transportation consultants Fehr & Peers and would be part of the environmental impact report. 

Vollmann said there was no set timeline for when the study would be released to the public. 

Calls to Safeway’s public relations officials for comment were not returned. 

Shawl said that neighborhood zoning laws mandated that any development should “maintain and enhance what is there now.” 

“However, they are literally going to grow and change the area,” she said. “College and Claremont will never be the same again.” 

Oakland’s planning staff wrote in the study that the “proposed project would result in a taller, more massive, and more intensively developed commercial center at this key retail corner in north Oakland than what presently exists at the site.” 

“I am skeptical of Safeway’s ability to deliver a neighborhood development that is consistent with the pedestrian-oriented shopping district that characterizes College Avenue and of the project’s ability to comply with Oakland’s zoning code,” said Jerome Buttrick, an architect at Buttrick Wong Architects who lives in the neighborhood.  

“They have no track record building urban infill projects of this sort. Most importantly however, the impact it will have on the local community cannot be overstated,” he said. “The project will quickly destroy the delicate balance of small, local retail shops that has taken decades to put in place.”