Land Use Update: Safeway, Permit "Sunset"

Saturday, March 8, 2014

College Avenue Safeway Project: College & Claremont Avenues
Construction continues on this large and important project. Construction updates will be reported regularly in The Rockridge News, beginning this month. RCPC and the three other community groups will meet monthly with Safeway to discuss construction progress and any construction activity issues. If you live near the store and see or hear anything you think Safeway needs to know about (and perhaps do something about), please contact RCPC at 869-4200 or info@rockridge.org.

Is Safeway for Sale?
Recent reports of the Safeway corporation being up for sale have raised concerns about how a sale would affect Rockridge's two Safeway projects. While it's impossible to predict whether the company will be sold, and what a potential buyer might decide, word has it that the two Rockridge stores have been, on a sales-per square-foot basis, among Safeway's most profitable stores. It seems unlikely a new owner would fail to rebuild the College Avenue store or continue to move forward with Safeway's approved plans for the Rockridge Shopping Center rebuild. We will report here any changes we learn about.

Proposal for Use Permit "Sunset" Provisions
As regular readers of this column know, one of College Avenue's continuing problems is the multiplication of street frontage non-retail uses on the avenue. This runs counter to the intent of the C-31 - now redesignated CN-1 - zoning, which requires a conditional use permit for most non-retail uses. Under Oakland's zoning ordinance, once a use permit is granted for a particular site, it never expires, regardless of whether that use actually continues on the site. In fact, a single site can have three or four use permits for different non-retail uses, all available for a new tenant without having to go through a new approval process or even be reviewed for new conditions of approval. Essentially, a building owner can collect a "closet" of use permits and pull the appropriate one out whenever a potential tenant wants to start a particular use at the site.

The problem with this is that retail use loses its favored status under the zoning, which can mean that retail gradually gets displaced by other uses, such as office use. Over time, this could result in the eclipse of College Avenue's reputation as a favored retail area.

RCPC is looking at asking the city, as part of its citywide zoning update, to revise its zoning ordinance so that when a use requiring a use permit leaves a site and is replaced by a different use, the use permit for the prior use would expire. This would not be a problem when, for example, one restaurant is replaced by another one in the same space. It would, however, mean that if a restaurant left and was replaced by a retail use, a later restaurant use would require a new use permit. RCPC believes this would help restore the zoning's intended preference for retail uses.

RCPC is talking to community and merchant groups in other parts of the city to see if this is also a concern in other CN-1 zoned areas before bringing the proposal to the city for its consideration.