Berkeley’s Zoning Adjustments Board on Thursday approved 7-Eleven’s application to open a store at 2000 San Pablo Ave. (at University) with an ATM machine and some design changes, but said it did not want the store to be open 24 hours.
Before the motion was passed, 7-Eleven representatives at the ZAB meeting had emphasized that operating 24-hours is at the core of their business model. The convenience store chain now has the right to appeal ZAB’s decision to the Berkeley City Council.
The ZAB Board listened to comments from around 25 residents and merchants of the west Berkeley neighborhood whose nexus is the intersection of San Pablo and University where the store would be located. The majority were opposed to a 7-Eleven coming into the area. Their concerns, which were also raised at a community meeting at the proposed 7-Eleven site on Jan. 8, centered on the negative impact such a store might have on local crime and safety, in particular if it was open all night.
7-Eleven did not need to apply for a use permit to open at the site as the space is already zoned for retail.
Neighbors were also worried about litter and the competition 7-Eleven might pose to local businesses. The area has a significant mix of ethnic food stores and restaurants and was designated an international food district by the city several years ago.
Jesus Mendez, owner of Mi Tierra Foods at 2082 San Pablo, said competition was not an issue for him, but he opposed 7-Eleven because the neighborhood had been improving over the past 15 years and he didn’t want to see that reversed.
Many locals spoke of a ‘fragile’ neighborhood that could see a decline with the wrong type of tenant.
Frieda Hoffman who owns Local 123, a café that is seen to have made a positive contribution to the neighborhood since it opened in 2009, said she didn’t believe 7-Eleven was a good fit, and that it might exacerbate the problem of homeless people loitering in the area.
However, several speakers said they would be happy to see a 7-Eleven take over the corner space that has long been vacant, as it would mean having a well-lit store and ‘eyes on the street.’ (A sentiment echoed by a Berkeley Police safety audit presented at the ZAB meeting by BPD Officer Cesar Melero.) There was also mention of the new local jobs the store would offer.
The building’s owner said he had been trying to sell the building since 2010. Sid Wiener of Illinois-based SKW Capital Management recently bought it. He said he had tried hard and failed to find local tenants, and was pleased he had found in 7-Eleven a tenant who would invest in the building.
At the Jan. 8 community meeting, neighbors said they were worried 7-Eleven would apply for an alcohol license in future, even though it was not doing so now. Before last night’s ZAB meeting, 7-Eleven committed in writing to not applying for a license for at least 10 years. The Board added to its conditions that it would prefer to see that amended to “in perpetuity.”
The Board also stipulated that rather than 7-Eleven having to comply to standard opening hours as an alternative to a 24-hour operation — which would be 6 a.m. to midnight — it would allow the store to open at 5 a.m.
Susan Black, one of the residents who has been organizing the campaign against 7-Eleven, said she thought the ruling was the best result neighbors could have expected. “We knew we couldn’t do anything about them coming in, and our biggest concerns were the all-night hours and the possible future alcohol license. This was as good as we were going to get.”
View all the city documents relating to 7-Eleven’s application.
Locals oppose 7-Eleven coming into ‘fragile’ neighborhood [01.10.13]
Berkeley grocer vows to give back despite robbery [03.01.11]
In Berkeley a café opens, a community blossoms [07.16.10]
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