Safeway unveils new design plans for College Avenue store

30 Apr

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.

The increased size will also allow Safeway to expand their pathetic offerings. They currently have no bakery and their deli is basically worthless. Check out this before and after shot of the deli:deliw560h420deli_2w560h420

(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:

14 Responses to “Safeway unveils new design plans for College Avenue store”

  1. Max Allstadt April 30, 2009 at 3:40 pm #

    Ken Lowney and his partner John Skrivanic do exceptional work. This plan isn’t just site appropriate, it’s interesting and fun. NIMBYs will have a very hard time doing anything to block this. I look forward to seeing it done.

  2. JB April 30, 2009 at 4:07 pm #

    It does look a lot like Market Hall: somewhat urban-bland, but at least not ugly like the original proposed design (which looked like a SoCal mini-mall). So that’s a definite improvement.

    I’m also disappointed that there will be a driveway on College. In fact, since it appears that it will be leading into some sort of internal garage on-ramp, it might be even more hazardous to pedestrians than at present, since it will be even harder for pedestrians and drivers to see each other ahead of time. (I was once struck by a car leaving Safeway when I was in the crosswalk headed toward Yasai, so I might be a little more paranoid about this issue than most people.)

    My biggest concern, actually, isn’t about Safeway itself but rather about what kinds of tenants it will be getting for the extra retail space. I hope that there’s at least some sort of ban on fast-food places. Adding something like a Subway to what has been a really cute block would really be tacky!

    While I am a regular shopper at the store, I’m not actually interested in any of their new or expanded sections (I couldn’t care less whether they have a deli, a bakery, a florist, whatever) save for the possibility of adding more organic produce. So it will be a pain putting up with the months and months of demolition/construction in that block just to get things I (mostly) don’t really need or want, but c’est la vie.

  3. Georgia April 30, 2009 at 4:42 pm #

    The Youtube video rendering is a great visual aid. Good thinking on the part of the architecture firm.

    I don’t shop at this Safeway nor do I live in the neighborhood so do not have strong feelings about the design. However, I wonder about the new retail space. There’s a glut of (empty) first floor retail space in Berkeley. Perhaps Rockridge has a better strategy to attract retail.

  4. Luke April 30, 2009 at 4:44 pm #

    Another great design by Lowney! I love the Whole Foods and Marzano they designed. The fact they added a Rockridge sign is AWESOME! Great all around. Hope it gets made.

  5. Ralph April 30, 2009 at 5:36 pm #

    my pants are wet. i live closer to 2 other safeways, but one is so small that it makes the current college ave site seem large and the other never has more than 1 checker. i love what they have done here.

  6. V Smoothe May 1, 2009 at 1:45 am #

    I practically leaped in the air when I heard about the five foot shelves.

  7. We Fight Blight May 1, 2009 at 11:55 am #

    Safeway has really responded well in taking a typical suburban model–a store surrounded by a sea of parking–and remaking it to integrate into the urban fabric with an interesting and pleasant pedestrian oriented facade along College Avenue. Rockridge is made up of many 2-4 story buildings that have almost 100% lot coverage where the building is pushed right up to the sidewalk. Yet, there has been a persistent and disingenuous effort by a small and loud number of detractors to cast this revitatilization effort as being out of scale with Rockridge.

    The drawings and visual sims clearly show that the bulk/height/lot coverage are typical of Rockridge. In fact, I overheard several residents comment how the Safeway building was substantially shorter than the Red Hangar building and that maybe the new Safeway building should be taller to be consistent with the surrounding buildings.

    The format for the meeting provided ample opportunities for questions and answer and informal discussions as people gathered around the boards and the three flat screen monitors. I really have to applaud Safeway and their consultants for their design and the format of the meeting. They really deflated the detractors and critics who were left with little to complain about–hence the regurgitated and tired NIMBY rhetoric. Of course, there will and can be minor design modifications to improve on the program as this winds its way through the entitlement process.

    The one area that Safeway really needs some thorough and detailed effort will be the traffic analysis and a traffic management plan that takes into account the intersections at Alcatraz/College, Alcatraz/Claremont and Claremont/College. Most of the traffic clogging up College does not currently and will not in the future be generated by Safeway. It comes from those traveling to and from UC Berkeley. Nevertheless, Safeway may add to that cumulative traffic particularly during peak travel times. If Safeway can ace the traffic issue, this project is well on its way to approval notwithstanding the detractors.

  8. david vartanoff May 1, 2009 at 4:14 pm #

    yes, the basic look is better. And the building in the vertex is maybe a good shield for the walkway. That said, the ingress/egress on College has to go. Indeed the light at Claremont is a disaster–but that can be reprogrammed. I still believe that the street must be widened by shoving the College facade back and buying out the residence between Safeway and the Buttercup building. The AC Transit study of what’s wrong with the 51 ( shows this two block stretch as a major delay point. Putting more cars in the mix will not help.
    Some other points, while my preference would be to insist all workers use transit at Safeway’s expense, at the very least, any employee parking should have power for electric car charging again on Safeway’s nickel. We need clarity as to shipping/receiving for the “independent” retail spaces. As I walked College today there was a delivery truck backwards in the WB traffic lane of 63rd while the yellow zone was empty!

  9. Born in Oakland May 1, 2009 at 7:37 pm #

    We have some great sites for this wonderful design over in the Brooklyn Neighborhood: E. 18th & Park to replace the ugly ugly Kragen’s (was a Berkeley Coop when we moved into the neighborhood) or in the old Safeway Building on 4th Ave and E. 18th!

  10. david vartanoff May 3, 2009 at 8:10 pm #

    indeed that hood could use a serious supermarket, although I shop along E 14th for ethnic goodies. One might legitimately wonder how Safeway figures to make lots of $$ on two stores barely a mile apart (Claremont and Rockridge but has no interest in Park @ E 18th. For reference we might just list abandoned Safeway sites to get a better perspective. Starting w/ E 18th, B’way @ 28th, Claremont adjacent DMV, 27th,West @ San Pablo, current Berkeley Bowl site (notorious as a ghetto store never provided w/ sufficient stock), 40th @ Tele, . Others of you w/ better memory?

  11. Avram Gur Arye May 8, 2009 at 5:13 pm #

    The lack of maintaining the one story horizontal line from the old peanut brittle facade (wonderfully omitted in this design) is the only major (building) design flaw I can find. I mean that the one storey element should be maintained all the way to the corner and another second storey patio facing college be installed in the setback. Some more well designed fenestration should be used in all the glazed areas such as to create more texture and have less curtain wall look to it. I agree with the traffic criticism of loading College avenue at near the point it is situated right now but applaud the plaza in the divide between buildings. My daily walk from the #7 bus to Cole Cafe will be much improved. I hold back all criticism of Safeway pricing and latitude of offerings
    until it’s succesful opening. I also hold back all mention of the motivation of the enlargement so close to our beloved Trader Joe’s. May the best man and culture win.

  12. billy May 30, 2009 at 11:16 pm #

    The NIMBY opposition is really extreme. CENA and RCPC are vocal and cranky old people, some of whom really seem to prefer the Safeway with strip mall parking and the horrible rock wall fronting College. It is great that Safeway has invested so much in trying to appease these people, paying for multiple outreach meetings, especially in this economy. Look how many vacancies there are along College these days. However, given the current economy, it would be unfortunate if these vocal cranks put up so much opposition that Safeway decides to ditch this huge improvement to the pedestrian environment of College.

    The flyer really shows how irrational they are. Is the main objective for College Ave. really to have good vehicle LOS at the intersections, with freely flowing, green house gas emitting cars whizzing along. The traffic study for the project should be multi-modal, not just addressing the vehicle LOS “concerns” of the cranks.

  13. cal June 23, 2009 at 11:53 pm #

    Remember when Safeway was Oakland…plenty of former safeway store fronts now taking by Walgreens. I believe (east 18th and park) deserves a mega store….get rid of kragen( Mayfair supermarket building remember?) …for new Safeway. Welcome back home SAFEWAY!

  14. michael Moore December 5, 2009 at 9:08 am #

    SAFEWAY – When are you going to get started on this project !
    Get the ball rolling !

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