Land Use Update: Safeway, Bica, Bourbon & Beef

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

College Avenue Safeway: College & Claremont Avenues: At a two-and-a-half hour negotiating session on November 1, Safeway representatives (led by Corporate Vice President for Real Estate Steve Berndt), and the three community groups - Rockridge Community Planning Council (RCPC), Friends and Neighbors of College Avenue (FANS), and Berkeleyans for Pedestrian Oriented Development (BPOD) - hashed out a compromise agreement over Safeway's increasing the height of its new College Avenue store. The final height is still 2- feet taller than shown in plans the city approved last December, but the community groups achieved a number of concessions to compensate for the additional visual impacts. Since then, things bogged down, with Safeway's attorneys inserting provisions not agreed to and omitting things that were. Hopefully, the agreement will be finalized soon.

Construction has been stalled until the negotiations are completed; it's now going to be a race between Safeway's construction crews and the serious winter rains. Once the foundation is completed, construction can continue regardless of the weather. Otherwise, the work could remain stalled until spring.

Rockridge Shopping Center [Safeway] :Broadway & Pleasant Valley
When the local community groups and Safeway reached agreement over plans for the Rockridge Shopping Center redevelopment project, everyone assumed that the controversy was over. Now, a previously-unknown group has filed suit against Safeway to block the project. The group's nature and motive remain unclear, but the suit is unlikely to take long to resolve. When the project was approved by the Planning Commission, nobody appealed that decision to the city Council. The failure to take the issues to the Council (as RCPC did last year for the College Avenue Safeway project) practically guarantees that the lawsuit will be dismissed for "failure to exhaust administrative remedies." This will likely happen some time in the next month or two. Demolition and construction might then begin.

Bourbon & Beef Restaurant
5634 College Avenue
In November, The Rockridge News reported that complaints from this new restaurant's upstairs neighboring tenants would be resolved by the restaurant's owners. However, problems have continued. RCPC is being asked to intervene and try to resolve the continuing problems. Failing that, it may be necessary to contact the City Manager's staff to seek nuisance abatement (which ended up closing down Bourbon & Beef's predecessor, Water).

Bica Coffee Shop
5701 College Avenue
We reported in November that Bica planned to apply for full-service restaurant use permit. City staff has since concluded that a restaurant use permit had already been issued for this location some time in the past. Oakland's zoning ordinance (unlike in most cities) makes use permits permanent, with no expiration date. Thus, Bica is being allowed to convert to full-scale restaurant use with no public input and no conditions, other than any that might have been imposed via the previous use permit.

RCPC thinks the idea of use permits never expiring, and for a single storefront site to have a "closet" full of different, non-conforming use permits, any one of which may be used when a new tenant comes in, defeats the purpose of having use permits at all. The idea of a use permit is that a use might be acceptable, if appropriate conditions were attached to the use.
Allowing a generic restaurant use permit issued years earlier to remain in effect when the type of restaurant and the surrounding conditions may have undergone major changes makes little sense as a way to protect the community. RCPC will be talking to groups in other CN-1 areas of the city to see if we can reach consensus on trying to convince the city to update this outdated zoning provision.