In development since 2007, the UC Village project is still tackling hurdles before the Albany Planning Commission. The mixed-use development on 6.3 acres of land, owned by the University of California Berkeley, is proposed on two parcels of San Pablo Ave.; a grocery store and retail to the North of Monroe Street and a senior living complex to the South. In September 2012, proceedings stalled as the approved grocer Whole Foods withdrew from the project due to delays in opposition from Keep Albany Local and Occupy the Farm. Since then, Sprouts Farmers Markets was accepted as the replacement food retailer, though protests continued against yet another corporate chain. The activists instead advocate for the local Natural Grocery Company and an urban garden on the Gill Tract, representing the last remaining agriculturally classified soil in the area. In May 2013, another occupy event staging a sit-in was met with four arrests and a counter-protest of residents in support of the development moving forward.
Gill Tract as of December 2013, plowed over and fenced off with No Trespass signs
The UC Village project garners much support from the community with a need for senior housing and the Bay area precedence for progressive options in senior living when compared nationally. Features and amenities offered by the complex include independent, assisted living and Alzheimer’s care with licensed nurses continuously on site. Meals, housekeeping, exercise, wellness, and educational programs, such as a "Circle of Friends" and "wander-risk" assistance are also available where need exists, while still preserving the freedom of choice and independence desired by others. Various floor plan options for the 175 units of housing can be chosen from while a dining room, bistro, fitness center, town hall and numerous outdoor areas are all accessible and in close proximity to the grocery and other proposed retail.
The most recent action before the planning committee on November 20, 2013, was for the approval of parcel maps and final design details. These details varied from orienting the store entrance to the street, increase in parking and trees, accommodation of a bicycle lane and placement of truck access for improvements to pedestrian and vehicle circulation. Proposals were also made to meet the 200 square feet standard of open space per unit, requiring a total of 35,000 square feet of open space, to be inclusive of the interior common areas that are linked to outdoor courtyards, terraces, and landscape areas for a total of 35,892 square feet in recreation space, making approximately 27% of that indoors.
Plans for the North and South Parcels of University Village Development
Specifics related to sustainability and public art were also part of the last meeting and the postponement of action until a scheduled follow-up meeting on December 11th, 2013, at 6 pm. Many high hopes throughout the community await the finalization of the approved maps and permits after such a long and tedious process. However, some still dispute moving forward as harmful to the community and the environment. As an alumnus of UC Berkeley, I am frankly surprised that the University Regents reject incorporating the very concepts I was taught in their urban planning and urban agriculture classrooms, also having attended one led by Professor Miguel Altieri, supporter of the Occupy the Farm movement and against degrading the Gill Tract soils with asphalt.
With such conflicting interests and a project launch already dragged out, what interests would you say should prevail and how?
Credits: Image by Gina Kiani and linked to sources. Data linked to sources.