Tonight, the new new Safeway at 51st and Broadway will have its EIR scoping session at the Oakland Planning Commission. The proposal has generated quite a bit of controversy among community members, and even managed to bring together in opposition the unlikely combination of STAND, ULTRA, and the Rockridge Community Planning Council. So why does everyone hate this project so much?
Well, basically because the 51st and Broadway shopping center, with 15 acres at a major intersection, represents a huge (and rare) opportunity for Oakland, and Safeway wants to use the site to build a strip mall and a ginormous surface parking lot. It’s ugly, it’s suburban, and it’s a waste of really valuable land.
A little bit of background on this site. Currently occupying the land is a 185,000 square foot strip mall and 667 parking spaces. Safeway is proposing to demolish the strip mall and build a new, bigger one – 304,000 square feet and 1,006 parking spaces, some of which would be where the existing parking lot is, and some of which would be on top of the new Safeway. The rest of the shopping center would have second floor office space.
Community Commercial areas have historically served Oakland’s major shopping, service, and employment needs, and should continue to do so in the future. Pedestrian-oriented design is encouraged, but these areas may also accommodate larger-scale, auto-oriented developments which require sizable off-streeet parking areas, such as Rockridge Shopping Center, Acorn Shopping Center, and Foothill Square. The higher end of the allowable density/intensity range is most appropriate on arterials.
The maximum FAR allowed under Community Commercial is 5, but of course, there’s nothing saying you have to build something that intense.
Aside from the General Plan, we also have the City’s retail attraction plans to consider, which of course. A report prepared last year by the Conley Consulting Group identified significant potential for quality retail at and around the 51st and Broadway intersection (PDF), and urged the City to be mindful of this potential when considering future development proposals:
The Rockridge Shopping Center is well located to serve affluent neighborhoods in Oakland and Piedmont, and is thus a valuable retail enhancement opportunity for the City. The City should carefully consider future development in this node and how those proposals enhance and protect the City’s overall retail sector.
The report complained about the existing poor use of space:
- The Rockridge Shopping center underutilizes a rare commodity in Oakland: a retail site over 10 acres in a prime location. Today, the center operates as a suburban retail solution in a key urban location. A proposal to relocate and expand the Safeway store only partially begins to intensify the use of the site by adding parking above the supermarket. More intensive use of this site could provide an expansion opportunity for the supermarket and also meet the City’s strategic goal of expanding its supply of comparison retail stores.
- Existing development at the intersection of 51st and Broadway is auto-oriented and internally focused, with little encouragement for pedestrians to patronize retail on adjacent sites.
Conley further recommended:
- Major development changes in these nodes provide an opportunity to redevelop the pattern of land use to one that is less auto-oriented, and supports creation of a pedestrian environment that serves the adjacent neighborhoods.
- Incorporate a viable comparison goods component into large scale retail development in this node.
- Modify traffic and circulation patterns to facilitate pedestrian circulation
So, it’s pretty safe to say that the new proposal does not conform to those recommendations. They aren’t law of course, but certainly worth consideration when considering whether the proposal should be approved.
Tonight, however, is not the time to do that. Tonight’s item is an EIR Scoping Session (PDF). Nobody is saying yes or no to the proposal tonight, just saying what should be studied in the project’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR). If you have thoughts on what project impacts should be studied in the EIR, you should go to the meeting and share them. Do not, however, show up and just say you hate the proposal and don’t want it built ever. That is not the purpose of tonight’s meeting and will just make the Planning Commission annoyed at you.
The meeting begins at 6 PM tonight in City Hall hearing room 1. If you can’t make it, but do have thoughts about what should be studied in the EIR, no worries – you have until July 27th to submit your comments.