Last night I attended what I thought would be another community meeting about Safeway. Well it turned out to be less of a meeting and more of an exhibition, which means that I don’t have dramatic moments to share but I did get to look at Safeway’s plans closely.
Overall, I’mvery pleased with what I saw. The design is modern but complementary to the neighborhood – V Smoothe’s first comment was that it looks like Market Hall, and it does, especially from this vantage point:
I love that the design is much more bike and pedestrian oriented than the current store and parking lot. Nearly all of the parking will be hidden behind the retail stores on the ground floor and underneath the larger Safeway store that will be on the second floor. Safeway is giving up some of its property to increase the width of the street and the sidewalk. Also, there’s tons of bike parking and places to sit.
I do have a few concerns about pedestrian impacts though. They’re keeping the driveway on College, which I think is a very bad idea. It causes traffic jams and is dangerous for pedestrians. Also, there’s going to be a bus stop on College but no actual space for the bus to pull into. I’m not sure I understand how this will work, but I was promised that this was what AC Transit wanted. On the bright side, Safeway is working with AC Transit to put in a bus shelter complete with NextBus, which will be a huge improvement over the current bus stop that doesn’t even have a bench. And Safeway is looking into providing AC Transit eco-passes for its employees.
As for the store, it will be 49,000 square feet, compared to its current 25,000 feet. I think an expansion is sorely needed. The current store has very narrow aisles and just isn’t very pleasant to shop in. Probably the most exciting thing I heard last night was that because they’re expanding the store, no shelves will be higher than 5 feet! I’m really short and often find myself having to ask for help in grocery stores to reach items on the top shelf so this is my dream come true.
(You can find before and after shots of all of the departments at the Safeway website.)
Since the previous community meetings hadn’t gone so well, Safeway clearly bent over backwards to mitigate neighborhood concerns. Initially they had proposed taking away some parking spots from College (which I would have loved). Now, they’ve left those parking spots and somehow managed to add parking spots on Claremont. Additionally, they’ll have 175 parking spaces in their lot (compared to the 106 spots they currently have), all of which will be available to Safeway customers and the public. They’ve planned a closed area for trucks because neighbors have complained about loud trucks at night. They’ve also moved their generator as far from residences as possible.
But no matter how hard Safeway tries, they’ll always have their detractors. Most of the crowd last night seemed pretty calm, and many people seemed happier about the new designs. But the hardcore anti-expansion group was not mollified. They were passing out a handout titled “Rockridge IS Small Retail” (PDF), which argues that the expanded Safeway is too big and will destroy all the small businesses around it. Of course, they fail to mention that the new Safeway will have 10,000 square feet of small retail space that will house 8 or 9 small businesses.
Here were some of my favorite overheard comments of the night from the Safeway detractors:
- “Looks like Ralphs in Encino.”
- “This isn’t Walmart; this is Safeway.”
- “This looks like a shopping mall in Walnut Creek.”
- And my favorite, “You can fight it all you want, it’s like fighting God.”
You can decide for yourself whether you agree with those comments or not. Check out this great YouTube video that shows the renderings in detail from all angles:
And if you’d like to look at more of the still renderings, head to the website of Safeway’s architect, Lowney Architecture.
The next step for Safeway is a hearing before the planning commission, which I’m sure will be well attended. I’ll post about that when a date is set.
Previous posts on Safeway: