ALBANY -- A series of resolutions allowing UC Berkeley to proceed with plans to develop land along San Pablo Avenue at Monroe Street was approved Wednesday by the Planning and Zoning Commission. The vote came after two hours of public comment and commission discussion.
Opponents have until the close of business Dec. 30 to appeal the decision to the City Council.
The project includes a Sprouts Farmers Market and senior housing to be built by Belmont Village.
"It's an important milestone after what has been six years of constructive engagement with the university and the community to come up with what we think is a win-win plan. I thank all of those involved," university spokesman Dan Mogulof said. "The university, the community city government and the campus feel good about this because the outcome was the result of what was very close constructive engagement over many years."
He described the process that led up to the vote, saying, "We did it very carefully, we did it step by step to come up with a plan that served the community's needs and university's interest. It was a wonderful model for establishing a great relationship between the campus and the neighbors."
The project has attracted ongoing opposition, however, from activists who contend no building should be done on the site.
"Disappointed, but not terribly surprised, unfortunately," was the post-vote reaction of Lesley Haddock, a member of Occupy the Farm, the group that led opposition to the plan.
"It looks like the city has been ignoring all of the public input for the last 15 years and tonight is no different," she said. "Obviously, we're not done. The city has approved it but there are still hundreds of people out here in the East Bay that are dedicated to farming that land and we intend to do that."
Haddock said Occupy the Farm would have a general assembly after the meeting to determine the next steps. She said she couldn't comment on whether the group would attempt to appeal the decision to the City Council.
The commission was originally scheduled to vote on the package of resolutions at its Nov. 20 meeting, but some late changes by city staff led to the item's continuance to Dec. 11, when the meeting was scheduled to start an hour earlier to accommodate public comment and allow discussion of other items besides the University Village project.
The meeting ran nearly six hours, and Albany residents, UC Berkeley students and urban farming activists packed the chambers.
Public comment on the UC project was heavily opposed and both sides engaged more in political theater rather than an attempting to make their case on its merits.
Opponents would snap their fingers when they agreed with a speaker's point. Supporters of the project made a point of not only stating that they were residents of Albany but sarcastically drawing out the point.
In large part, that was because this project has been in the works for years. A version of the plan was approved by the City Council in July 2012, only to be rescinded after a referendum by opponents qualified for the ballot.
At that point, anchor tenant Whole Foods Market pulled out of the project. Sprouts Farmers Market was subsequently brought in as a replacement.
Opponents of the project claim the land, which is part of the Gill Tract, is some of the last undeveloped agricultural land left in the East Bay.
Land adjacent to the project site, long used by UC agricultural students, has been "occupied" and farmed by activists multiple times over the past two years in part to protest the development.
Supporters of the project note that the land to be developed had served as student housing since World War II when the government constructed barracks on the land.
Among the resolutions passed was a division of the parcel into three parts. One is for the grocery store, one is for the senior housing and the third is designated for retail. Plans for the final parcel have not been presented.
Commissioner Phillip Moss has repeatedly requested that the parcel remain open space until the university comes up with development plans and did so again this week, prompting one of the opponents to blurt out, "We could farm it."
Moss smiled and replied, "That was the hint."
"We intend to farm all of it," Haddock said. "We're in agreement, at least, on that part."
Mogulof said the university is open to any and all conversations but also stressed that UC wants to hear from the entire community on the subject and not just one segment.