The cash-strapped city of Albany is considering building a sprawling retail complex on its southern border with Berkeley. The project threatens to create traffic hazards on the Gilman Interchange.
Target Stores, Inc. submitted plans to the Albany Planning Department in early February. The proposed project calls for 179,000 square feet of retail space that will include a two-story Target Store, garden center and a fast food restaurant.
In addition, a 600-space parking lot is planned over a culverted section of Village Creek. The project is expected to generate 11,000 vehicle trips a day, according to a traffic report compiled by the traffic engineering company, Kimley-Horn and Associates.
City Councilmember Dona Spring said the project should be reconsidered because of the large amount of traffic it would cause.
“Any project with that much parking can hardly be what you would call smart growth,” Spring said. “And all the extra traffic swamp the Gilman Interchange.”
Assistant City Manager for Transportation Peter Hillier said that without a traffic signal or traffic circle at the Gilman Interchange, drivers waiting to merge into the Gilman Interchange from Eastshore Highway could become frustrated and take unnecessary risks.
“It’s a very old and awkward intersection and the traffic engineering report the city of Albany ordered, surprisingly, did not take into consideration the increased risk of collisions or suggest possible mitigations,” Hillier said.
The city of Berkeley has submitted a proposal to improve the interchange, but Hillier said any potential improvements are at least five years off.
The proposed 10-acre site runs along the railroad tracks between UC Village and the Eastshore Highway. The Berkeley Solid Waste Transfer Station is immediately south of the site and the Harrison Playing Fields — which include four popular soccer fields — are also close by.
Community Environmental Advisory Commissioner LA Wood said he was surprised at project’s location. “I was surprised to see it so close to the transfer station that has had issues of airborne particulate matter and odors.”
The traffic report also cited poor access for emergency vehicles on the south and east sides of the main building and suggested an emergency access be added to the plans.
The Albany Planning Commission has not yet considered the plan, but there is political support among the city’s elected officials.
Mayor Jewel Okawachi said Albany, which has a population of 18,000 and is known for its small-town ambiance, could use an infusion of retail revenue.
“We’ve wanted some type of business to generate revenue and (179,000 square feet) of retail will be helpful,” Okawachi said.
The city has considered two other projects for the site since 1998. Both, a cinema complex and retail development and an office park, were canceled by the developers.
According to Albany’s planning manager, David Dowswell, the city is working with Target Stores, Inc. to resolve the traffic and access problems.
“We’re in the process of working out the traffic impacts,” he said. “Once we come to a meeting of the minds, we’ll bring the project to the Planning Commission.”
In the past, proposed buildings or parking lots over culverted creeks have been controversial. In this case, however, the Friends of Five Creeks — a nonprofit group that advocates for the restoration and protection of creeks and watersheds — has worked with the property owners, TMG Partners, since the office complex was proposed in 2000.
Susan Schwartz, president of Friends of Five Creeks, said she does not anticipate much negative impact on the two creeks that run through the proposed site.
“The plan was pretty good when they submitted it,” she said. “But we would like to see a little more setback from the banks of Codornices Creek, and we would also like a wooden footbridge across the open section of the Village Creek wetland so people could enjoy it.”