20 Aug 2014
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Sprouts Market, Senior Housing Appealed to City Council

Two appeals have been filed of the Albany planning commission's approval of the UC Berkeley plan for a Sprouts Farmers Market and senior housing at University Village in Albany.

Sprouts Market, Senior Housing Appealed to City Council
The long-embattled UC Berkeley development plan for a large grocery market and a senior housing complex next to University Village in Albany is headed for another battle.

The plan for a Sprouts Farmers Market and 175 units of senior housing  won key approvals from the Albany Planning and Zoning Commission on Dec. 11, and two appeals of the commission's 4-0 decision have been filed, sending the issue to the City Council.

The first appeal, filed on Dec. 19, was signed by attorney Naomi Young of Bay Area Legal Aid representing two co-appellants, the non-profit Albany Housing Advocates and Amber Whitson, one of the people living in the illegal encampments on the Albany Bulb. The other appeal was filed on Dec. 20 by Albany resident Edward Fields, an outspoken critic of the proposal.

The UC development plan has been the subject of debate, numerous public hearings, appeals and litigation since it was introduced six years ago. An earlier version named Whole Foods as the grocer, but it pulled out last year and was replaced by Sprouts.

Albany Housing Advocates and Whitson are also plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed Oct. 2 against the City of Albany, accusing the city of violating state mandates for local governments to facilitate affordable housing. The suit alleges that the city lacks a required state-certified Housing Element, which is supposed to describe how the city intends to meet its allocation for needed housing, especially affordable housing.

In their appeal of the planning commission approval of the UC plan for Sprouts and senior housing, Albany Housing Advocates and Whitson say the commission's action was invalid because it was based on the city's General Plan, which in turn is invalid because it lacks the essential Housing Element.

The commission's action included approval of tentative parcel maps and design review.

The appeal says the city cannot approve parcel maps without a valid General Plan, and that the city's General Plan cannot be valid without a valid Housing Element.

The appeal also says the commission's action "impedes the City's ability to identify adequate sites to meet its outstanding regional housing needs allocation, thereby preventing it from bringing its housing element into compliance with state law." The Housing Element is supposed to identify potential sites for additional housing. The UC proposal would occupy 6.3 acres of currently undeveloped land, a commodity in short supply in Albany.

The appeal lodged by Fields cites numerous reasons for rejecting the commission's action, including the assertion that the city's General Plan is invalid due to a lack of a valid Housing Element.

Fields says also that the approval should be reversed because the proposal fails to meet requirements of the city's municipal code and other planning requirements, including parkland dedication, waterway descriptions and proper identification of public areas, among others. He says also that the proposal fails to provide the required amount of open space along Codornices Creek.

The planning commission's decision followed nearly two hours of public comment by 45 speakers, most of whom opposed the plan, saying that Sprouts represents unhealthy industrial agriculture and corporate greed and that the currently vacant land should be used instead for urban farming and agricultural education.

Supporters said the project has been intensively reviewed, debated and ultimately embraced by the majority of the community and that it's time for it be approved.

An environmental impact report on UC commercial development of the site received City Council approval in July 2012.

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