If approved by the City Council, a law recommended by Berkeley’s Planning Commission would prohibit a controversial new Walgreens from locating on Solano Avenue. Photo: Luke Chan
If approved by the City Council, a law recommended by Berkeley’s Planning Commission would prohibit a controversial new Walgreens from locating on Solano Avenue. Photo: Luke Chan

Regulation to limit the number of large drugstores in Berkeley was approved by the city’s Planning Commission on Wednesday night, sending the proposed zoning change to the City Council for a final decision.

If approved by the City Council, the law would prohibit a controversial new Walgreens from locating on 1830 Solano Ave., currently the site of a 76 gas station. It would also make it difficult for new drugstores to locate in several of the city’s neighborhood shopping areas. The vote was five in favor, one opposed, and two abstentions.

It could take a couple of months for the item to be ready for the council’s agenda, said city planner Alex Amoroso, planning commission secretary.

The commission, at a packed meeting, made a couple small changes to the “Minimum Distance Between Drug Stores” zoning language, including removing South Berkeley from the list of neighborhood commercial districts recommended for the law.

The ordinance as approved by the commission:

  • Adopts a definition of a drugstore, which includes having a pharmaceutical business and selling licensed pharmaceutical products; this language may get further minor tweaks per the planning commission
  • Prohibits the location of drugstores over 5,000 square feet from locating within 1,000 linear feet of each other
  • Applies this restriction only to some of the city’s “neighborhood commercial districts:” Elmwood, North Shattuck and Solano Avenue, as well as a number of smaller unnamed commercial areas (C-N) dotted throughout the city, such as around Hopkins Street and Monterey Avenue (see a city zoning map)

Before opening public discussion on the item, the commission stressed that the new law is city-wide and not specific to any one business, though it would impact the proposed Solano Avenue Walgreens, sized at a little under 10,000 square feet.

Nevertheless, much of the comment was about the Walgreens, which is winding its way through the building permit process, a usually lengthy series of steps requiring environmental and design reviews, and approval by the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board.

And, while there were striking differences of opinion expressed, the tone of the discussion was civil and calm.

Many against the Walgreens project called it a perfect example of why the new drugstore zoning is needed — to protect the character of neighborhood shopping districts with small-business appeal. Many said the new store would squeeze out already fragile existing, smaller businesses such as Sal’s pharmacy and Pharmaca, located near the Walgreens site.

“I’m here in support of the ordinance,” said Peggy Scott, who said she lives “182 steps” from the site.  “We have a very special neighborhood.”

Some supporters said chain stores such as Walgreens should only be allowed in neighborhoods where they’re a better fit, and not in primarily residential areas.

“We need this to help local Berkeley neighborhoods protect their character and not turn into ‘Anywhere USA,’” said Kitty.

Opponents of the zoning change said the Walgreens is a better option than the existing gas station or years of a potential vacant lot if the gas station closes; can help spur pedestrian shoppers to the area as a magnet or anchor store; and will provide needed jobs.

“It restricts healthy competition,” said Alonso Emilio. “Everyone should have a choice to shop where they want.”

Some criticized the approach.

“It’s unnecessary. It’s way too broad for the city as a whole,” said Rick Warren, who lives a half-block from the Solano Avenue Andronico’s, which is next door to the Walgreens site. Warren said the city should approach such zoning issues on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis, rather than with one fell swoop. “Neighborhoods can deal with it on their own.”

Several Walgreens employees attended the event, with a few speaking in support of their employer.

Berkeley to consider redistricting of large drugstores (03.17.14)
Opponents of proposed Walgreens hope for zoning change (01.15.14)
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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Freelancer Catherine "Kate" Rauch has been contributing to Berkeleyside for several years. Her work as a journalist has encompassed everything from 10 years as a daily news reporter for the East Bay Times,...