ALBANY -- The latest plans for a grocery store and senior housing on land owned by the University of California will need some tweaks to satisfy the city's zoning guidelines, the Planning and Zoning Commission told developers at a meeting last week.
The plans were considered for well over three hours, with the public comment portion taking one hour and 40 minutes.
Commission members "were really looking at how to make the project better so it can go forward," said Kevin Hufferd, property development manager for UC Berkeley. "That's what really encouraging about tonight. They raised some tough issues for our two development partners. And we're going to go back to the drawing board and look at what we can do."
Several of the speakers during the public comment portion were either members or supporters of Occupy the Farm, an activist group that wants the land preserved for agricultural uses. Several residents also testified in favor of the development.
Commissioners Doug Donaldson, Phillip Moss and Nick Pilch contained their discussion to questions about project specifics.
"I'm disappointed that (the commission) obviously ignored the voices of the many people who showed up to express support for an urban farm being put on the land," said UC student Lesley Haddock of Occupy the Farm after the meeting. "But I did hear there are still problems with the development."
The activist group retook the Gill Tract land over the weekend before University of California police evicted it Monday morning and arrested four members.
"The longer we can delay this development, the more chance we have to demonstrate to this community that we can build an urban farm that would be a community asset that is much more deep and meaningful than a commercial development would be," Haddock said. "I'm feeling good about the concerns that were raised and the continuing postponement of development."
Commissioners said they were generally satisfied with the plans for senior housing. However, they made it clear that the location of the Sprouts Farmers Market on the property is extremely problematic.
A city staff report stated that under the zoning, buildings along San Pablo Avenue should be built to a line "4 feet back and parallel to the existing right of way," and that "main parking areas should be located to the side or rear of buildings, not in front."
The current plans have the grocery store set on Monroe Street, with a parking lot between the store and San Pablo Avenue.
"The elephant in the room is you've put us in a real tough spot with the siting of the grocery store," Commissioner Nick Pilch said. "If the store was siting on San Pablo, I don't have any other big impediments to liking this project. The siting is kind of a throwback, it's not modern urban design. That legally puts us in a bind. I don't know how we're going to get past that."
Added Donaldson, "I don't know whether to be direct and forceful so you get the point or whether to be nice. It just doesn't meet our zoning requirements."
Pat Barrett, who represented developer Oppidan at the meeting, told the commission that the various partners have already considered other ways to orient the grocery store.
"Staff was clear that not having the store against San Pablo was going to be an issue," he said. "We worked on it for five months, we worked with our client for five months. Unfortunately, we are putting our best plan forward. I know that's not what you desire, but unlike other situations where this might be our first shot and we can go back to the drawing board, we've already been back to the drawing board.
"The site has so many options, and we've tried every one. I think we're at a point where I don't know what else to do."
The commissioners made it clear that wasn't a satisfactory answer. After the meeting, Barrett tried to remain optimistic.
"We're hoping to make it work, some way, some how," he said. "We're excited to be here."