BERKELEY -- A proposal to build a Walgreens on the current site of a 76 gas station on Solano Avenue is stirring up opposition even before the planning process has formally begun.
The property at Solano and Colusa avenues is across the street from Sal's Pharmacy. Pharmaca and a CVS are also nearby.
Allen Cain, executive director of the Solano Avenue Association, said the business organization's members are divided on the issue, with about 40 percent in favor, 40 percent opposed and 20 percent with no opinion.
"The merchants are exactly split," Cain said. "We are a membership organization so we are driven by the desires and views of our members. If the neighborhood truly doesn't want this, then it wasn't meant to be. But there are a lot of merchants on Solano that are for it."
He added that he has not received one email from a member merchant opposing the project.
At an Oct. 24 meeting to discuss the project developer Agree Realty Corporation unveiled preliminary drawings to the public and sought feedback.
Agree purchases properties specifically for Walgreens nationwide. According to reports, the Solano property is currently in escrow.
Many opponents of the project don't want a chain pharmacy opening on the site. An online petition to "Keep Walgreen's off Solano" has been created on moveon.org (http://bit.ly/17L10x4).
The petition asserts that Walgreens is unwanted by the community and "will have detrimental impacts on both auto and pedestrian traffic in the small, busy intersections on Solano Avenue, create an inevitable shortage of parking and have major economic impact on existing small businesses." More than 1,000 people had signed the petition as of Nov. 5.
The petition also notes that the current gas station is the only one in the neighborhood.
"Let's pretend it has been a functioning drugstore for 20 years," Cain said. "Then, some developers come to town and say, 'We would like to turn that into a gas station.' What would the response be?"
The proposal includes 22 parking spaces, which developers claim would help alleviate the parking shortage in the area. However, there is no guarantee that Walgreens would follow through on allowing non-customers to park in the spaces. Opponents also maintain that the planned parking would be insufficient for a nearly 10,000-square-foot store.
Cain said similar development squabbles have been going on in the area for years, citing the CVS that took over a space used by a Salvation Army store and, going back many years, a Blockbuster Video store that replaced Five-Star Video.
"It happens every time a developer comes to town," he said. "Everybody loves the idea of this cute little district and we just serve the neighborhood."
He noted that the nearby Oaks Theater is still vacant and getting something that might draw people from outside the district could help revitalize the theater.
"Ultimately, we'd like to get the theater rented," he said. "By having the Walgreens there, yes, we have a few parking spaces. But it also shows the district is worth investing in. If you want to rent the theater out, you have to show that you're hip and cool. I think having the Walgreens there will show people that developers are investing in Solano Avenue in a big, big way."