BERKELEY -- No official announcement has been made about a Starbucks opening in Telegraph Gardens, a mixed-use project on Telegraph Avenue near a locally owned coffee shop, but southside residents are already organizing to make their concerns heard.
About 45 people squeezed into Mokka -- Michael and Susan Iida's cafe -- last Sunday afternoon to give input on what sorts of businesses they'd like in the new commercial space at Ashby and Telegraph avenues.
Mokka is two blocks south of the new Telegraph Gardens residential/commercial building, and residents to date have had no input on its retail tenants.
Neighbors, however, could get their chance to weigh in publicly, when a neighborhood group appeals the permit allowing a coffee shop at Telegraph Gardens.
"I don't want a big company coming in that the smaller business won't be able to compete against," Doris Pummill said, just before Sunday's "Save Mokka" meeting got under way. "I wouldn't want to lose this neighborhood business."
On March 13, the city approved a 2,000-square-foot coffee shop on the ground floor. The city approved the use administratively, which means the permit is not discussed publicly by the zoning board.
It's not clear that the new coffee shop will actually be a Starbucks. Only the name of the developer, Avi Nevo, and the architect, Arktegraf, appear on the application.
Nevo said it is the policy of the prospective lessees not to reveal the name until permits are issued. A Starbucks representative, meanwhile, said in an email —... we do not have any information to share regarding this location at this time."
Mokka co-owner Michael Iida, however, said several Telegraph Gardens construction workers have told him the site is to be a Starbucks. Meeting attendees also pointed to telltale green awnings at the site as a good indication Starbucks will occupy the space.
Speakers at the meeting also expressed frustration that Nevo was able to get a permit administratively.
"Where is the community review?" asked Andy Johnson, a Bateman Neighborhood Association board member who moderated the meeting. "Where were the chances for all of us to comment on (the question): Should there be a 2,000-square-foot coffee shop right there?"
Johnson announced that his neighborhood association will appeal the permit. That will bring the question to the zoning board, from which it could be appealed to the City Council.
Contending that the issue is more than a David-and-Goliath competition between a possible Starbucks and an independently owned cafe, Johnson said it's a question across Berkeley of whether the city administration allows residents a voice in planning their neighborhoods.
Much of the discussion turned around the question of parking at the new coffee shop. The administrative use permit waived a requirement for three public parking spaces. (Four nonpublic spaces in the Telegraph Gardens private garage will be available for cafe workers.)
"A (retail) space that should have seven spaces presumably for customers will have zero spaces allotted for customers," said Michael Iida.
The administrative decision says the new cafe "would primarily serve residents and workers in the neighborhood who are most likely to walk to the establishment rather than drive ... and not (serve) a broader citywide clientele and therefore would not significantly increase the traffic circulation or parking demand in the area."
Lee Lamprey, developer Avi Nevo's daughter and vice president of his company, Segula Investments, was at the meeting, taking notes. Interviewed after the meeting, Lamprey defended the parking waiver, arguing that the city is placing two metered spaces outside the cafe, which resolves the question. "It's common in the city to grant (parking) waivers," she said.
Lamprey contended there had been time for public input when the Telegraph Gardens project got preliminary approvals. She conceded, however, that no specific plans for a coffee shop were signaled out at that time.
In a phone interview, Nevo said the new development, with 40 apartments and around 120 occupants, would bring vibrancy to the corner, adding customers to nearby businesses, such as the flower shop on the southwest corner of Ashby and Telegraph, and even, he said, "some spillover to the Mokka Cafe."