OAKLAND -- The Oakland City Council will vote Tuesday on a new, and most likely final, plan for a new Safeway on College Avenue in Rockridge. The new plan is the result of a last-minute compromise between the supermarket chain and neighborhood groups that had opposed the expansion.
A council "yes" vote would bring an end to years of wrangling over the scale and design of the controversial project.
"Overall, I think personally -- and I think our board feels -- pretty good about the compromise," said Stuart Flashman, board member of the Rockridge Community Planning Council, one of the neighborhood groups.
The surprise compromise was brokered by outgoing Councilmember Jane Brunner on Nov. 8, the same day the City Council was set to vote on whether to support an appeal against the project. The vote was postponed after representatives from both sides spent 13 hours hammering out a consensus that Safeway can use to redraft its plans. "These are our guiding principles," said Elisabeth Jewel, a media and community consultant for Safeway on the project.
The biggest change is that the supermarket itself will be moved to the ground floor, with parking on the roof, instead of the original plan of street level parking and a store on the second floor.
A retail space of around 9,500 square feet will be leased out as small shops, and Safeway has agreed that no more than 40 percent of the retail space can be leased to national chains, in order to preserve the small-business atmosphere of the street.
A pedestrian "street" roughly 35 feet across will open from 63rd Street to Claremont Avenue, creating a plaza where the supermarket's main entrance and exit will be and keeping to some extent the view of the hills from College Avenue.
"It's going to be a much more functional area," Flashman said.
The store will be 45,500 square feet instead of the planned 51,500 square feet, and the loading dock will be covered instead of open. Safeway officials also agreed to make sure there is enough parking, assuaging locals' fears that residential streets will fill up with Safeway's customers or employees. Also, Safeway will pay for residents' parking permits for several streets in the area. Because Safeway is still meeting with neighborhood groups, details of the final plans are still being worked out and will probably not be released until the day before the council vote.
In a Wednesday night neighborhood meeting attended by about 60 people at Peralta Elementary School, longtime resident Zachary Walton, who participated with other neighborhood group members in the negotiations, said he is cautiously optimistic the council will approve the agreement.
Flashman fielded attendees' concerns at the meeting that the two-hour parking limit in the area coupled with the prohibitions against afternoon shift workers parking in the store's lot would compel them to circle the neighborhood for parking spaces. Flashman said early morning and later evening employees are permitted to park in the lot under the settlement agreement. But because the store's busiest time is from 4 to 7 p.m., employees working during those hours have "a strong incentive to take public transit," he said.
Another stipulation in the proposed settlement is that because of parking and traffic impacts, no full-service restaurants can set up shop without the approval of community groups.
Neighborhood concerns with Safeway's expansion date back to 2007. The original designs were quickly scrapped, and Safeway turned to Ken Lowney, a Rockridge resident, who handled the popular Whole Foods renovation near Lake Merritt.
But opposition continued upon fears that a larger Safeway, even with other retail space included, would hurt the small merchants along the popular shopping street. Last year, Safeway bought the independent Chimes pharmacy and now operates it as a Safeway pharmacy. The Lowney design, which was approved by the planning commission following an environmental impact report, replaced the dilapidated current 24,000-square-foot supermarket, built in the 1960s, with a two-story structure extending to the corner of Claremont Avenue. A 51,500-square-foot supermarket was planned for the top floor, with a covered public parking garage at ground level and about 11,500 square feet for eight retail shops on the ground floor.
The planning commission's decision was formally appealed by the Rockridge Community Planning Council and Berkeleyans for Pedestrian-Oriented Development with the support of Friends and Neighbors of College Avenue, all of whom participated in the compromise negotiations along with representatives from Safeway, architect Lowney and a transportation consultant.
Flashman said that, like any compromise, neither side won all it wanted, but he expects little opposition at the City Council meeting. And he said he is happy, if surprised, that so much progress has been made.
"It's a heck of a lot better than it was," he said.
Correspondent Lucinda Ryan contributed to this article.