A rendering of the proposed Walgreens on Solano Avenue. Drawing courtesy Kahn Design Associates

UPDATE, 01.17.14: About 50 people showed up to the Planning Commission meeting on Wednesday and about half of them expressed their concerns about the proposed Walgreens on Solano Avenue. The commission discussed the issues but did not reach any conclusions. It asked Berkeley senior planner Alex Amoroso to come back to the commission having done further research. In particular, the commission wants direction of the definition of the word ‘drugstore,’ and questioned whether stores like Walgreens can be classified as department stores. It has not been decided when the issue will come back to the commission.

ORIGINAL STORY: Local residents who oppose a new Walgreens planned on the current site of a gas station at 1830 Solano Ave. (at Colusa) in Berkeley are hoping a potential new zoning amendment might derail the drugstore chain’s plans.

The city’s Planning Commission tonight will review a proposed 2011 zoning ordinance that would limit the number of new or expanded drugstores to within 1,000 feet of each other. The City Council had asked the commission to provide direction on the issue, and the proposal for a new Walgreens on Solano has brought the issue to the front burner. The commission could support the proposal as written, recommend revisions or changes, or decide against a recommendation, leaving the status quo. 

A map created by city staff shows two pharmacies within 1,000 feet of the planned Walgreens — Sal’s Pharmacy at 1831 Solano, and Pharmaca at number 1744 — and Andronico’s at 1850 is spitting distance away.

The “No on Walgreens” campaigners are likely to turn out in significant numbers to hear the commission’s recommendations.

The goal of a new zoning amendment would be to discourage a proliferation of drugstores in close proximity to each other, particularly those that sell alcohol. A close concentration of drugstores is also seen as preventing commercial diversity, and promoting “undesirable chain stores … and big-box developments” at the expense of small local businesses. (Read the staff report being considered by the Planning Commission tonight.)

One pertinent issue is the definition of “drugstore,” something city staff would have to grapple with before any zoning change was approved.

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates is known to favor limiting the number and concentration of drugstores in the city. In December 2011 he lobbied the owners of the former Andronico’s on Telegraph to rent the building to another grocery chain rather a pharmacy. The campaign was unsuccessful and CVS opened its doors there last year.

If the planning commission recommends a new zoning ordinance, the next step would be a required public hearing, which requires a minimum 10 days notice.

A new zoning regulation would not affect Walgreens had it already secured its building permit. However the developers behind the plan, Agree Realty, are in the early stages of the process having only recently applied for a zoning use permit. This would typically be followed by a hearing at the Zoning Adjustments Board and only then, once the proposal was approved, an application for a building permit.

The Berkeley Planning Commission meets for its regular meeting tonight at 7 p.m. at North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst Ave. (at Martin Luther King Jr. Way).

Walgreens’ Berkeley store plan inches divisively along (12.09.13)
Testy response to proposed Walgreens on Solano Avenue (10.28.13)
Bates: City needs another grocery store, not pharmacy (12.14.11)
Will pharmacy war lead to new restrictions in Berkeley? (04.18.11)

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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...