OAKLAND -- The Rockridge Shopping Center will undergo a drastic makeover and expansion after the Oakland Planning Commission approval of a plan to roughly double the Safeway center at Broadway Avenue and 51st.

Commissioners approved the project during the Sept. 25 meeting at Oakland City Hall by a vote of 5-0, with Commissioner Emily Weinstein abstaining from the discussion because she owns property near the shopping center.

The project has been in design planning for more than five years while Property Development Centers of Pleasanton worked to satisfy a laundry list of concerns from residents who live nearby, primarily regarding traffic on the already congested streets.

The back-and-forth between builders and neighbors, city leaders said, led to the design of a project that could generate roughly $3.3 million more in annual sales tax for the city, up from $1.41 million to $4.72 million. The sales tax increase, officials said, will go a long way to address an estimated $1.4 billion in sales tax that is going to other cities.

"There's no other city in the entire United States that has that amount of retail leakage," said Morten Jensen, president of JRDV Architects, the Oakland firm designing the aesthetics of the project. "We realize that it's not so much what people are buying in the stores, but it's the social experience (that shoppers seek)."

The project calls for the demolition of an existing 185,000 square feet of retail space and the construction of a new 330,000-square-foot center that will feature a new and expanded Safeway grocery store. Building heights will nearly double from 45 feet to 80 feet. The project also will bring new traffic control measures to bordering streets, including Broadway Avenue, 51st Street, Pleasant Valley, Coronado and College avenues, as well as Gilbert and Montgomery streets. At build-out, officials estimate the center could generate up to $66 million in sales tax.

"I don't know how many police officers you could hire with that, but it would definitely be a bump to the general fund," David Zylstra, chief operating officer of Property Development Centers, said during the public hearing.

More than 40 people attended the Sept. 25 hearing and overwhelmingly expressed support for the project. Once reluctant to back the project because of the significant impact it would have on their residential streets, future shoppers now said they couldn't wait for the center to open.

"My husband and I live, shop and exercise in the Rockridge center," Oakland resident Dolores Ramirez said as she submitted a petition containing more than 500 signatures of residents who were in support of the project. "Everything is so close that we walk everywhere. Yet I find myself shopping in Walnut Creek and Emeryville for a variety of things."

To ease concerns, project developers have agreed to continue monitoring traffic on side streets after the project is built to determine whether the measures they have agreed to implement to deter congestion are working.

Developers also have engineered in several elements into the plan that they feel fit with the overall character of the city, including solar panels, a rooftop garden, a parking structure, and various restaurant pads that will offer a view of the San Francisco Bay.

"Parts of the design are very anywhere USA," Commission Chair Chris Pattillo said. "So I'm glad to hear you're looking to that Oakland design and architecture language. Let's just get out of the way, and let's get it built."

Zylstra said he hopes construction will begin in late spring 2014.

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