UPDATE, 12/08/10: This meeting has been canceled. I’ll post about it again when it gets rescheduled.
On Wednesday, the Oakland Planning Commission’s Design Review Committee will consider the current design proposal for the rebuilt Safeway at 51st and Broadway.
If you haven’t been by recently, what’s there right now is basically a suburban strip mall surrounded by a sea of surface parking. It contains 185,000 square feet of retail space and 667 parking spaces.
As you may recall, Safeway’s original plans for this site (PDF) went over pretty poorly when they were unveiled back in June of 2009. They essentially proposed replacing the existing suburban strip mall with a new one.
Feedback from community members who attended Safeway’s community meetings on the project appeared to be pretty much universally negative, which prompted Becks at Living in the O to ask her readers what they’d like to see at the site. The plan was so at odds with what North Oakland community members envisioned for their neighborhood that STAND, ULTRA, and the RCPC all came together to voice their opposition to the proposal:
This proposal is so offensive and so disrespectful of our city and our neighborhoods that it has managed to unite in opposition all the neighborhood groups who until now had been on opposite sides of the various development debates in north Oakland these past four years.
Additional concerns were raised about how the proposal related to the Oakland Retail Strategy, which identified this location (PDF) as one of five key opportunity nodes in the City, calling for increased intensity of use at this location. (The retail strategy Illustrative Design Plan (PDF) further details this vision for the site (PDF).)
The design is, unfortunately, flawed. It basically perpetuates the current design, by maintaining long, squat buildings that surround the surface parking lot. It does add office space, and it fills in the perimeter of the site. But buildings remain set back from the street, offset by landscaping, and the prominence of the central parking lot is maintained; moreover, additional parking is added to the roof of the Safeway. In other words, the design remains wholly suburban. Pedestrian access to the shopping center is currently pretty miserable — sidewalks at the entry and exit points break off for the convenience of automobile navigation, or are omitted altogether. Based on these sketches, the new design does not completely address that problem either, except for including a few colored crosswalks.
He was moved to share his own alternative vision for the project, which involved scrapping the surface parking, extending the street grid through the site, and filling it will dense housing atop ground-floor retail.
The project came before the Planning Commission in July of 2009 (PDF) for an EIR Scoping Session (PDF), and the Commissioners didn’t like it any more that anybody else had.
After taking the robust criticism from pretty much everyone into account, Safeway has revised their site plans. The proposed square footage of commercial space in the new plan is slightly less than what they had proposed last year (296,000 sf versus 304,000 sf) and includes slightly less parking (971 versus 1,0006 spaces). The Safeway stores itself would be increased in size from 48,000 sf at the existing building to 65,000 square feet at the new one.
In the revised plans, the buildings are no longer set way back from Broadway. The height is increased at the corner of Broadway and Pleasant Valley (to 70 feet), and much of the parking has been moved from the ground to a three story parking structure on top of ground floor retail.
It’s definitely an improvement. But is it good enough? The staff report (PDF) for Wednesday’s meeting suggests there is more work to be done:
The proposed buildings incorporate a variety of articulations, materials, textures, and colors. The result visually breaks apart the building masses into smaller pieces, thereby reducing the perceived bulk of the project. However, all the varied architectural elements and treatments lead to a somewhat random and chaotic look for the project. The result is a large development with repetitive and overwhelming variation. Along Broadway and Pleasant Valley Avenue, staff believes the project would benefit from a design that reduces the widespread variability and presents an appearance of two or three individual buildings, each internally cohesive and distinct but related to adjacent buildings. Staff also believes the façade directly at the corner of Broadway and Pleasant Valley Avenue is arguably the most visually prominent and symbolically important area of the project as the anchor of one of the corners of the intersection, yet the design is too understated. The façade is somewhat flat and the downward sloping roof planes downplay the prominence of the corner. Staff believes the design would benefit if the architecture at the corner is more noteworthy and memorable.
What do you think? You can get a better idea of what’s being proposed from the renderings pictured below, all taken from the staff report (PDF) for Wednesday’s meeting.
The elevations were too hard to read in any picture small enough to fit on the blog, so download the staff report (PDF) if you want to examine those. For my part, I wish the renderings didn’t make it look like this shopping center is being plopped in the middle of some big meadow or something. Having to sit there and try to envision what it looks like across the street in every damn slide gives me a headache.
If you want to weigh in on the plans yourself, or just see what the Design Review Committee members have to say, the meeting will be held on Wednesday, December 8th at 5:00 PM at Oakland City Hall, Hearing Room 1.