ALBANY -- Whole Foods said it pulled out of a deal with UC Berkeley on Friday to build near the University Village housing complex in Albany after two lawsuits were filed against it and a voter referendum on the project qualified for the ballot.
Whole Foods had been working with UC Berkeley and the city of Albany for five years on the project near San Pablo Avenue. The Albany City Council approved the project July 9.
After the City Council approval, Albany resident Eric Larsen, 39, filed a suit against the city, challenging the environmental impact report. Another lawsuit filed Aug. 17 by a group called Albany Strollers and Rollers also challenged the environmental report on the project. A third group, Keep Albany Local, recently collected enough signatures for a voter referendum on the project, which was headed for a special election sometime after the November election.
Larsen said the project likely would have significantly affected the local environment by increasing traffic and diesel particulate and would have impacted the agricultural land run by the university next door at the Gill Tract.
"I was not trying to stop the development," Larsen said Friday. "I merely want appropriate development. The size and the scale they were proposing was quite significant."
The city "failed to analyze a reasonable number of alternatives to the project, and they only analyzed three," Larsen maintained in his lawsuit.
Whole Foods was to anchor a senior and assisted housing project on the property.
A Whole Foods spokeswoman said in an emailed statement Friday the company had "terminated its lease agreement because terms of the lease have not been met and the project has been delayed for several years."
The spokeswoman did not immediately return a phone call for further comment.
Robert Hatheway, assistant vice chancellor for real estate at UC Berkeley, said it would continue to look for a grocery store for the vacant lot.
"Over the course of the five-year process, we consistently heard loud and clear the desire for a grocery store in what is an underserved area," Hatheway said in a statement. "We also heard broad support for a project that will generate jobs, economic activity, and revenue for the City of Albany."
Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley.