In a six-hour meeting filled with cheers and jeers, the Albany City Council approved needed to move forward a University of California plan for development of a grocery store and senior housing facility at University Village.
Project plans have been underway for five years, and include a Whole Foods store up to 55,000 square feet just north of Monroe Street, as well as a 175-unit senior housing complex just south of Monroe.
The council approved in the Village, which the university said were necessary for completion of the project, as well as changes to municipal open space and parking requirements, the project's and a development agreement. (.)
Officials estimated that 150-200 people attended the meeting; some of them had to watch a monitor from outside the room because the hall where the meeting was held was filled to capacity. (There were 120 seats set up in the room for meeting attendees, and many people also stood and lined the walls of the room throughout the night.)
said after the meeting that it was the latest-running one she could recall during her 11 years working for the city.
Approximately 40 activists and supporters for urban farming, many of whom said they want an agro-ecology center created on the Gill Tract agricultural research fields, as well as the preservation of agricultural land, various aspects of the project.
Though many said they lived in Berkeley or the greater East Bay, quite a few of the speakers against the project, including at least two Albany business owners, said they lived in Albany or had close ties to it.
About 16 people spoke in favor of the development, including many members of Albany Little League, which has several playing fields in the Village. The project development agreement, which was approved Monday night, assures the league that its current fields will remain in place for at least 10 years, and that the university will pay to move them if the need arises.
Unlike many Albany meetings, which are marked for the most part by moderate public comments and a largely orderly tone, Monday night's meeting was punctuated by frequent outbursts despite repeated attempts by the mayor to reign in public emotion.
"We extraordinaly bent our usual public speaking policies," he said, in allowing audience members to "cede time" to fellow commenters, which is not a common practice for Albany. "We allowed you to get away with all kinds of clapping and booing, which is not allowed."
Many of the speakers against the project were affiliated with Occupy the Farm, a group that took over the university's Gill Tract in April to plant an urban farm and advocate for a permanent center on the UC research fields for community farming efforts.
Critics of the university's plan said the project's environmental review document failed to address issues such as pollution and traffic impacts adequately. Numerous speakers said, as a result, council approval of the document could leave the city open to litigation.
David Clore of LSA Associates, the firm that prepared the environmental impact report, told the council that "what we heard simply, in many cases, was not accurate," and assured council members that the 2,500-page document fairly described all the impacts.
Many speakers talked about their inherent distrust for the university, and railed against what they described as an increasing privatization and corporatization of the institution.
Supporters of the project said it would ; revitalize a depressed portion of San Pablo Avenue; bring much-needed revenue and jobs to the city; create nearby housing for seniors; and improve access to creeks and cycling paths.
Just after 1 a.m., as the council worked its way through the seven separate approvals on the agenda, attempted to convince the other four council members to approve an easement to protect the Gill Tract research fields as open space.
His motion received a yes-vote from , and no-votes from and . abstained from the vote, which resulted in its failure.
Atkinson was the lone no-vote in approving the project's Environmental Impact report, saying she wanted to acknowledge community concerns voiced about the document.
Lieber was the sole no-vote on the development agreement between the university and the city, as well as the density bonus requested by the university to lower parking requirements.
Overall, however, he said he supported the development.
"This is good for Albany. It does create a community space that fronts San Pablo. It does create an income that this city sorely needs," he said. "We have scraped and cut and found really great ways to make up our budgets. But we need this. That's the way I feel."
Council members expressed interest in preserving open space on the Gill Tract fields and working with the university to investigate the possibility of creating an agro-ecology center there.
Several of the items approved Monday will return to the council for a "second reading" on July 16, but may not be open for additional public comment unless the council decides to re-open the public hearing.
The city also will revise one of the to provide that the project will , said Albany's Community Development director, Jeff Bond.
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