By Tracey Taylor
A vocal group of South Berkeley neighbors, working in concert with local merchants, has prevented a Starbucks from opening in South Berkeley.
Berkeley’s City Council voted earlier this week to deny Starbucks an administrative use permit for a 2,063 square-foot space at 3001 Telegraph Ave., at the south-east intersection with Ashby. Council members voted on Tuesday after hearing from dozens of local residents and business owners that such a high-customer-volume coffee shop would increase traffic congestion and exacerbate what they described as an already taxing parking situation. The denial came in spite of the fact that the original application from Starbucks was approved by city staff a year ago.
Starbucks’ attempts to rebut parking and traffic concerns — with company-commissioned parking studies, its contention that most customers and employees would arrive at the store on foot, and promises to take steps to create parking in the area — were to no avail.
It wasn’t the first time council members had considered the coffee shop’s application, and the process has been a long one for both Starbucks and its opponents.
The city’s Zoning Adjustments Board approved an administrative use permit for Starbucks on March 13, 2013. An appeal was lodged by local resident Jim Smith and Andrew Johnson from the Bateman Neighborhood Association 16 days later. The crux of the opposition was the parking waiver given to Starbucks over the number of spaces it needed to provide. This was denied by ZAB at its June 30 meeting. On Nov. 19, the Council referred ZAB’s decision to a public meeting. That happened last night, and ended with the vote to deny Starbucks a permit.
“We’re thrilled,” said Smith. “The detrimental issues are pretty obvious, but we didn’t know we would get the five votes.” Smith said he believed that from the beginning of the application process, the city had never quantified the impact the store would have on the neighbors.
Calls to Starbucks’ attorney John Kevlin of Reuben, Junius & Rose, had not been returned at press time. It is not known whether the coffee chain intends to appeal.
The Starbucks would have opened in the Telegraph Gardens project owned by Avi Nevo which opened early last year. Savvy Rest Mattresses moved into one of the three vacant street-facing retail spaces last October. Along with the proposed Starbucks location, there is an additional, smaller retail space still for lease.
Starbucks: ‘We Went Above and Beyond’
Starbucks met all its requirements on paper, and, as Andrew Zall, store development manager for Starbucks, put it to the council, had in fact gone “above and beyond” to try to and reassure locals that the store would not put excessive pressure on parking or increase traffic congestion. Zall said Starbucks was collaborating with AC Transit to move a bus stop currently on the south side of Telegraph across the street to the north side. Nevo would have contributed funding for the move which, according to John Kevlin, an attorney working for Starbucks, had been under discussion for some time.
But opposition to the coffee shop moving in was strong and widespread. Opponents who spoke at last night’s meeting included representatives for the LeConte, Bateman, and Willard neighborhood associations, as well as the Berkeley Neighborhoods Council.
Jacquelyn McCormick, president of the Claremont and Elmwood Neighborhood Association, said CENA was “standing in solidarity” with the other neighborhood associations, and urged the Council to stand in solidarity with neighbors too.
Peter Shelton, who lives near Telegraph Gardens, said today that his concerns go back to the original approval of the building. “Planning, then ZAB, then the Council allowed this building to go in with substantial concessions,” he wrote by email.
“Starbucks got a waiver of the parking requirements ‘over the counter’ with no notice to the neighbors and minimal inquiry by the clerk. So we have waiver on top of waiver on top of exception. It’s like the bureaucrats don’t look at the totality of their decisions, just the micro view of this one piece of paper in front of them now,” he continued.
“I am offended by the process that requires hundreds and hundreds of citizen-hours to take a matter to ZAB and then two council meetings to overturn a decision made in a few minutes by a clerk at the permit department. If we have a general plan and zoning ordinances, shouldn’t the city be required to enforce them?” said Shelton.
Local business owners, many of them from the multitude of medical and dental offices that are located in the area, on the doorstep of Alta Bates Hospital, spoke of the difficulties their patients, some of whom were be disabled or injured, already have to find parking.
A representative of Direct Urgent Care at 3095 Telegraph Ave. said his office sees many people with broken bones. A reduction in the number of parking spaces would impact the business. “We have grave concerns about the impact [of Starbucks] on congestion and parking,” he said. He added that the parking study conducted by the the coffee chain was “fabricated” and “simply not accurate.”
Council was divided on the issue. A new Starbucks would bring tax revenues of $100,000 to the city, according to Zall, who also said in testimony that the coffee chain would create 25 new jobs. Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates said he was concerned about who might lease the space if Starbucks’ application was denied, particularly given the parking issues.
Laurie Capitelli: parking a serious issue
Councilman Laurie Capitelli said he was conflicted on the issue, but felt that parking was ultimately the one serious issue to consider. He reminded people that the impact on local independent coffee shop Mokka, whose co-owners Michael and Susan Iida have campaigned against Starbucks on parking grounds, should not be taken into consideration, as the council could not consider potential market competition as a factor.
Both Councilwoman Susan Wengraf and Councilman Gordon Wozniak made a point of mentioning they personally preferred Peet’s coffee — which, of course, was founded in Berkeley — to Starbucks, and Mayor Bates said he had done some research and found that, “Starbucks was a better company than I had realized.”
Eventually Wengraf moved the motion to approve the permit. It was seconded by Wozniak. But before a vote could be taken, and after three and a half hours had been devoted the the issue, Councilman Jesse Arreguin stepped in with a last-minute substitute motion to deny the permit, which was seconded by Worthington.
Arreguin argued that there was ample evidence that Starbucks, as a high-impact use, quick-service restaurant, would exacerbate local parking problems and create “detriment” to the neighborhood. “As one resident put it,” he said, “this is a good use but not a good location.”
A vote was taken to deny the permit and it passed with six yes votes (Linda Maio, Jesse Arreguin, Max Anderson, Kriss Worthington, Laurie Capitelli and Mayor Bates) and three abstentions (Susan Wengraf, Gordon Wozniak, and Darryl Moore).
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