Residents Uneasy About New Berkeley Bowl

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The fate of a potential offshoot of the popular Berkeley Bowl Marketplace spurred contentious debate last night, as West Berkeley residents packed a city Planning Commission meeting to hash out possible repercussions of the market's construction.

If approved, the new store will be more than twice the size of the Berkeley Bowl on Oregon Street in South Berkeley, and occupy three times the square footage of original draft plans, which called for a 27,000-square-foot building.

The new store, proposed for Ninth and Heinz streets, would occupy 91,060 square feet and potentially attract hundreds to the area everyday.

The proposal has drawn concern from nearby residents who fear the size of the store will dominate the surrounding neighborhood and aggravate what residents deem an already congested traffic area.

"The traffic is just horrendous," said David Rist, who works near the proposed building site. "I've been here since 1989, and since that time I've seen traffic increase exponentially."

Traffic in the areas of most concern will not increase by more than 20 cars, even during peak hours, said Peter Hiller, assistant city manager for transportation.

Many neighbors said despite lingering concerns about traffic, they are excited about the new store, which has been a major neighborhood issue for the past 15 years, according to Elizabeth Morris, president of the West Berkeley Neighborhood Development Corporation.

Berkeley Bowl owner Glenn Yasuda said there are no full-service grocery stores like the one he plans to open currently in the neighborhood, and his store will lessen congestion at the Oregen Street store.

The independent market has garnered a large following among Bay Area residents.

"We know what it takes to open a full-service store," Yasuda said. "People in the community are more optimistic than we are. We just want to take some of the pressure off our present store."

Still, some community members argue that the problem goes beyond traffic. The West Berkeley neighborhood will have to be re-zoned from industrial to commercial use to accommodate the new supermarket-a change some neighbors said will open the floodgates for gentrification of a traditionally low-income area of the city.

"If you do away with industrial zoning in that area, you lose the diversity, and it can never come back," said Zelda Bronstein, former chair of the Planning Commission. "It's the thin end of the wedge for gentrification. It'll become an upscale bedroom community, and that's not the West Berkeley we want."

However, Kava Massih, architect for the West Berkeley project, said it is not uncommon for people to balk at any new project proposed for their backyard.

"If you want to do an addition to your bedroom, someone's always going to come out and say that this is the end of the universe as we know it," Massih said. "That's everybody's first reaction."

"When you propose something new in any neighborhood, people's first reaction is to say ‘over my dead body,' he said. "Then they they turn around and ask, ‘What did you want to do again?' That's not just in Berkeley-that's everywhere."


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