Despite having fought off a slew of lawsuits, threats and angry neighbors, the project which will house Trader Joe’s grocery in downtown Berkeley is not yet off the hook.
This time the problem is not so much with the five-story mixed-use building at 1885 University Ave., which is nearing completion and now sports a bright yellow look. Concerns have shifted to a 1,465-square-foot café that’s ex-pected to open right next to the grocery chain on Berkeley Way.
A group of neighbors filed an appeal to the Berkeley City Council against the Zoning Adjustments Board’s decision to grant the café a use permit because they are worried about it violating the city’s parking requirement.
Hours of operation and encroachment on residential sidewalk space are some of the other concerns.
The appellants, Eric Dynamic, Tom Hunt and Steve Wollmer pointed out at the Jan. 26 council meeting that project developers Hudson and McDonald were skirting the law by not providing six parking spaces for the café.
Berkeley’s zoning code mandates that all commercial spaces provide a certain amount of parking depending on square footage.
However, the zoning board neither required nor waived parking when it made its decision.
“It’s a 54-seat café—it’s not a small café, it’s a destination,” Wollmer said. “That a café of this size will not require parking is incredible.”
Hunt said that parking in the neighborhood was already very tight.
“And it’s only going to get worse with Trader Joe’s,” he said.
Chris Hudson of Hudson and McDonald informed the council that he had already agreed to lease all parking spaces in the building to Trader Joe’s and therefore would not be able to provide any spots for the cafe.
According to a staff report, Hudson and McDonald have contended that as long as they “provide the required number of parking spaces for both commercial uses, the parking requirement has been met, regardless of how the applicant chooses to allocate or restrict the use of those spaces.”
But the zoning department staff sided with the law and told the council that the parking couldn’t be forgiven.
“If the council votes [to uphold ZAB’s decision], parking will be required under the city ordinance,” the city’s Planning Director Dan Marks said.
“I cannot commit that I will be able to provide parking,” Hudson said. “I do not have control over the parking garage.”
Café owner Ayal Amzel, who also owns Yali’s Cafe on Oxford St., testified that a lack of parking would not be detrimental to his business.
“If the opposition is saying we don’t intend to follow the law of the City of Berkeley we should have a public hearing,” Councilmember Kriss Worthington said. “The law is the law.”
Councilmember Gordon Wozniak said he was hopeful Trader Joe’s would be accommodating to the café’s parking needs.
“The applicant’s responses seem slippery,” said Councilmember Max Anderson, also calling for a public hearing. “I am not satisfied.”
Councilmember Jesse Arreguin pointed to a City Council meeting transcript from 2006 which he said showed that Hudson had been “open to set aside parking for the café.”
“Now he’s saying he signed a lease,” Arreguin said. “I am not opposed to the café,” but the developer is not keeping his word.
Hudson said he couldn’t recall the discussion.
Although zoning staff recommended holding another public hearing, the council did not ask for it.
Hunt and Wollmer also complained that the developer was replacing landscaping—which they said had been part of negotiations with neighbors—with sidewalk seating, and would be opening at 6 a.m., an hour before businesses are allowed to open in a residential neighborhood in Berkeley.
In the end, the council voted 5-2 to approve the project anyway.
“Hopefully Trader Joe’s will allow the café’s customers to park in their parking lot,” Worthington said after the meeting. “If they put up a sign saying parking only for Trader Joe’s, then it’s illegal.”