This guest post was written by John Gatewood, one of the co-founders of ULTRA (Urbanists for a Livable Temescal Rockridge Area), which supports higher density mixed-use development along the major transit corridors of north Oakland. John works in the Graphic Arts Industry and is a resident of Temescal.
Safeway is in the planning stages of replacing the existing store and gas station at College & Claremont with a new store. (Their plans can be found on their website.)
On Wednesday evening, November 18, this project will be before the Planning Commission. No decisions will be made at this time, as it is an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) scoping session to solicit comments from the community as to what should be studied in the EIR for this project.
The latest version of Safeway’s proposal is an improvement upon the previous iterations they have shown the community but it could still be better. ULTRA, Urbanists for a Livable Temescal Rockridge Area, agrees that the existing store and gas station must be replaced. These two relics from the auto-centric 1960’s have no place in the small-scale urban village that Rockridge has become.
But one of the project alternatives studied MUST include a housing component. We think it is an excellent location for senior housing. This site has very good transit access and it is in an aging community. Rockridge is built-out. There are very few locations where there is even the possibility of building higher density housing. This site is one of those rare locations. This project is an opportunity to do some strategic planning for the future of the neighborhood. We are sure that now and in the future there will be more and more residents who will want to remain in the neighborhood but no longer want the burden of maintaining a single family house. Senior housing at this site would address this coming need. Furthermore Safeway has already partnered with a housing developer at the Mission Bay development in San Francisco. They now have the experience of building a new Safeway with a housing component and they need to bring that experience to this site.
In Safeway’s latest proposal they have small storefronts on the first floor along College Avenue and the Safeway store above. We think the Safeway should be on the first floor BEHIND the small storefronts. This has multiple benefits – It reduces the bulk of the building because the lot slopes up more than a full story in the rear, meaning that the supermarket would be partially below-grade, greatly reducing the visual impact of the store. The storefronts lining College would echo the existing land use, that is, small storefronts close together creating a lively and dense retail experience. These storefronts need maximum flexibility as to their eventual use. Ideally they would be filled with independent businesses and that should remain the goal for these stores. But just because a project has ground floor retail doesn’t mean that there are businesses that can be successful in these spaces. A row of empty storefronts does nothing to help the community.
Putting Safeway behind the storefronts will make these spaces much more flexible. As part of the Conditional Use Permit (CUP) and on an interim basis only, each of these spaces could be used as retail spaces for Safeway’s various departments. Having their various specialty departments with their own entrances on College Avenue could serve as an inducement for customers to enter the main Safeway store. As part of the CUP and on an interim basis only, these storefronts could also be permitted to be used by neighborhood-serving community groups. Having the Safeway store on the first floor would also have the additional benefit of freeing up the second and possible third floor for housing. Housing would not encompass the entire roof space but only the periphery along the avenues, echoing the existing land use pattern along College Avenue. The larger portion of the rooftop could be a parking deck for the store.
Instead of a garage entrance on College Avenue like in Safeway’s proposal, we think there should be a public plaza. The entrance to the first floor Safeway would be at the back of this plaza. What is missing and needed at this end of College Avenue is a civic space, a place for people to gather. This would address that need. We envision this space evolving into a place where small public events such as arts & crafts fairs could be held. This would be to the community’s benefit and it would redound to Safeway’s benefit too because the more attractive the public space outside the store, the more likely it is people will enter the store.
Please join ULTRA and others at the Planning Commission meeting next Wednesday to share your thoughts about the Safeway EIR scoping issues:
Planning Commission Meeting
Wednesday, November 18th at 6:00 pm
Oakland City Hall
1 Frank Ogawa Plaza, Hearing Room 1
You can also submit comments and/or questions in writing to:
Pete Vollman, Planner III,
City of Oakland, Community & Economic Development Agency
250 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, Suite 2114
Reference Case Number ER09-0006 in all communication.
Comments must be received no later than 4PM on December 1, 2009.
Previous posts on College & Claremont Safeway:
- 5/7/09: Safeway submits application, but “concerned neighbors” are not so happy about it
- 4/30/09: Safeway unveils new design plans for College Avenue store
- 2/15/09: College Safeway Update
- 12/8/08: Safeway stakeholders meeting canceled (or postponed?)
- 11/12/08: Safeway on College might be stuck with a “patch and paint” job
- 6/22/08: Safeway Community Meeting Turns into Public Venting Session