Whole Foods exits UC project

As reported by Albany Patch, UC and Whole Foods have issued statements relaying that Whole Foods will not be part of the University Village Mixed Use project (http://albany.patch.com//articles/whole-foods-pulls-out-of-university-village-project).

UC’s states, “The decision comes in the wake of new lawsuits filed against the city that seek to further delay or cancel the project, as well as the likelihood of a ballot referendum on the development plan that might not be voted on for up to a year.”

This mischaracterizes the goal of AS&R and C0A’s lawsuit by lumping it with the lawsuit by Eric Larsen and the referenda, which do seek to stop the project. As previously relayed, the goal of AS&R and C0A’s lawsuit is to restore requirements regarding cycling access and solar panels that existed for three years until they were weakened at UC’s request, potentially to the point of elimination, in the last three minutes at about 1 am on July 10th, with no opportunity for public consideration, question or comment. Because the Council only met once, a week later, before the August 20th deadline for legal action, there was no opportunity to resolve these issues without a suit.

UC is aware of the goal of AS&R and C0A’s suit because it is in negotiation with both groups now. It has offered new language that seeks to address all parties’ concerns.  The new language gives hope the suit can be settled in the next couple of months before a trial starts.

It would be easy to see UC’s statement as a conscious attempt to scapegoat AS&R and C0A.  However in all likelihood the statement is the result of operating under difficult circumstances, which include UC’s project manager, Kevin Hufferd, being on vacation.

UC also states, “While we regret the loss of the project’s anchor retail tenant, we understand the firm’s frustration over further delays that come on the heels of five, long years of extensive community meetings related to development. . .” This places responsibility for the length of the process to date on the community.

However, the EIR for this project took three years (Notice of Preparation 3/20/2008 [http://albanyca.org/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=3014] to Final EIR February 2011 [http://albanyca.org/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=15182]).  This is a lot longer than EIR preparation usually takes.  For instance, the West Berkeley Bowl EIR took ten months (Notice of Preparation filed 7/6/2005 [http://www.ceqanet.ca.gov/DocDescription.asp?DocPK=584421] and Final EIR May 2006 [http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/uploadedFiles/Planning_%28new_site_map_walk-through%29/Level_3_-_General/West%20Berkeley%20Bowl%20-%20FEIR.pdf]).

So almost half the elapsed time to date was due to the delay in the EIR. Community meetings were not responsible for this. While it may be expedient to ignore this and blame the community, it is not supported by the facts.  If the EIR had been prepared on the normal timeline, the project would have been approved in 2010 instead of 2012.  Events would have unfolded quite differently.

AS&R and C0A look forward to continuing discussion with the City and UC toward developing language that addresses all parties’ concerns, and hopefully subsequently settling the case.

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