OAKLAND -- After years of emotional debate and discussion, the Oakland City Council is expected -- at its Tuesday meeting -- to decide the fate of the Safeway expansion on College Avenue in Rockridge.
But according to District 1's departing Councilmember Jane Brunner, the vote won't end the dispute either way.
"Even if the City Council did reject the appeal, there will be litigation for many years," Brunner said.
The expansion would replace the older, smaller store near the Berkeley border at Alcatraz Avenue with a much larger multilevel structure extending to the corner of Claremont Avenue. This has mobilized neighbors who fear traffic and noise pollution and worry that independent retailers on that stretch of street will be hurt.
At the council meeting, which was postponed from Oct. 16, the council will decide whether to back the planning commission, which has voted to approve the project, or listen to an appeal by a coalition of local groups who are fighting it.
As planned by Safeway, the project would replace the current 24,000-square-foot supermarket, built in the 1960s, with a two-story structure. A 50,400-square-foot supermarket would occupy the top floor, with a covered public parking garage and about 11,500 square feet for eight retail shops on the ground floor.
The structure would include land currently occupied by the current Safeway parking lot as well as a former gas station on the corner of Claremont Avenue. The proposed design is by architect Ken Lowney, a Rockridge resident who handled the popular Whole Foods renovation near Lake Merritt. Safeway is also expanding a store on Broadway, just more than a mile from the Rockridge store.
Because the project does not conform to current zoning for the area, the project would require permits not only for size but for exemptions such as driveways on College and Claremont avenues. That's one of the things that the opposition groups are worried about.
Neighborhood concerns date back to 2007, when the plan was first raised by Safeway. The following years saw new architects, changes in design and various public meetings. But opposition eventually solidified into a group called Friends and Neighbors of College Avenue, an umbrella group that includes the Rockridge Community Planning Council, Berkeley's Claremont Elmwood Neighborhood Association, Concerned Neighbors of the College Avenue Safeway and others.
They fear that a larger Safeway, even with other retail space included, will hurt the small merchants along the popular shopping street. Last year, Safeway bought the independent Chimes pharmacy and now operates it as a Safeway pharmacy.
Residents have raised concerns over increased cars and noise pollution in an area that already has traffic problems. The "Friends" group is encouraging their supporters to fill out speaker cards for the meeting, to voice support for a renovated store at the current size, within the current zoning.
Brunner declined to predict the outcome of the council vote but said that even if the vote supports Safeway, she hopes there can be compromise.
"I have asked Safeway, and they have agreed, to do a mediation session with the appellants," Brunner said.
The Oakland City Council meeting will begin at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in the City Council chamber, third floor, City Hall, 1 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, Oakland. For more information, go to http://www.oaklandnet.com.