A drawing from an October 2011 UC Berkeley presentation on the mixed-use project designed for University Village; Monroe Street splits the project in two. The site is bordered by San Pablo Avenue to the east, which runs along the top of this image. See the full presentation. (Some details, such as the presence of Whole Foods, have changed but this is the most recent document available.) Source: UC Berkeley

Plans for a senior living complex, new retail shops and a grocery store in Cal’s University Village in Albany have cleared another hurdle despite a campaign by activists over the summer to stall the development.

The Albany City Council voted Monday night to rescind what some saw as a controversial contract between the city and the property owner, the University of California, rather than to delay further by putting project approval before the voters in a special election.

(Albany City Clerk Nicole Almaguer said an election could cost from about $52,000 to about $122,000, depending whether the city required polling stations or opted for mail-in ballots only.)

The project — which has garnered broad support among Albany residents, but also inspired strong opposition — is set to straddle Monroe Street just west of San Pablo Avenue, with a grocery store to the north and a senior living complex and other retail to the south. Whole Foods Market had been on board to occupy the grocery space, but the company announced in September that it was pulling out due to long delays and legal challenges facing the project.

In August, project critics calling themselves Keep Albany Local collected signatures to oppose the development agreement, which set out several key aspects of the project. The grassroots campaign followed months of vociferous protest sparked in April by the Occupy the Farm movement, participants of which took over land near the proposed development to protest Whole Foods and to advocate for an urban farm on the Gill Tract.

More than a thousand Albany voters signed the petition. Organizers said people who signed it complained about a lack of public outreach, as well as elements of the development.

YouTube video

Other Albany residents, however, pointed to years of public meetings about the project, and said the campaign spread misleading, false information throughout the community. The project has been in development, with extensive public meetings before various city bodies, since 2007.

Monday night, the Albany City Council was faced with a decision about what to do following certification, by the county in September, of the referendum petition. City staff said officials either could rescind the development agreement, which would allow the project to go forward without it, or put project approval to a vote by the community.

Albany’s Community Development Director, Jeff Bond, told the council that the agreement referenced five key elements of the project that were not established in other policy documents: an agreement with Albany Little League regarding the future of its fields; an agreement that developers would pay prevailing wages during construction; a commitment to lock in city fees related to the project; a commitment from the city not to levy a fee related to inclusionary housing requirements, and not to require affordable housing as part of the project; and a promise to grant Albany residents priority for a portion of the senior housing.

UC Berkeley Project Manager and Planner Kevin Hufferd told the council Monday he was disappointed that the agreement — which he described as five years in the making with mutual benefits for the community and the university — had been challenged by the petitioners.

But Hufferd said he’d rather see the council scrap the development agreement than face another six months of waiting “with considerable additional costs collectively.” (The earliest an election could take place would be in March.)

Hufferd noted that the recent withdrawal of Whole Foods made it clear that “delays have consequences,” adding that although the university is still seeking a grocery partner for the project, the site now faces “the competing challenge of a grocery store just across the border in Berkeley.”

Hufferd said the university is working with Little League and the labor unions to craft agreements that would satisfy their members.

Council voted unanimously after Hufferd’s brief presentation to approve the revocation of the development agreement.

No one from the public spoke about the issue, and there was no council discussion on the matter.

Bond told the council that, pending resolution of current litigation related to environmental impacts, the project is set to move forward in phases, with senior housing going in first, followed by the grocery store and other retail later. The project still has several approvals to obtain from the city related to design review and infrastructure plans, including bicycle, pedestrian and transit access to the site.

According to Bond’s staff report: “The major determining factor for the timing and nature of the development of the project will be local economic conditions.”

Cal razes latest Occupy the Farm greens at Gill Tract [11.16.12]
Cal: No GM crops at Gill Tract, research work is under way [05.18.12]
UC Berkeley regains control of Gill Tract
Police raid, clear out Occupy the Farm, handful of arrests [05.14.12]
UC Berkeley speaks of impasse, seals off Occupy Farm [05.10.12]
Activists: Farming and research can coexist, no need for police [05.10.12]
UC Berkeley files lawsuit against Occupy the Farm activists [05.09.12]
Could UC and Occupy the Farm compromise on Gill Tract? [05.04.12]
UC Berkeley calls for peaceful end to Occupy the Farm [04.23.12]

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist of the Year...