Most of the students, merchant representatives and neighborhood activists, speaking at Wednesday night’s Planning Commission public hearing on the Underhill Draft Environmental Impact Report condemned the planning process by which the Underhill Projects and Southside Plan are roaring down parallel tracks.
“Unfortunately, there is a separateness in the two planning efforts,” said Doris Willingham, speaking for the Claremont-Elmwood Neighborhood Association.
Lesley Emmington Jones from the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association called on the university to join a round-table dialogue on the two projects at once.
Speakers also asked university representatives to hold a second public hearing on the Underhill DEIR – the first was held Monday – and to extend the time forits consideration. The three-inch, two-volume report – copies of which are available at the campus Capital Projects Office – was released April 7, and comments must be received by Capital Projects by June 9.
The complex document “requires careful reading, so we can understand the ecological implications for our neighborhood,” said Kathy Berger, executive director of the Telegraph Area Association.
The regents are scheduled to vote on the final document at their September meeting.
In response, UC Berkeley Capital Projects Director Tom Lollini agreed to take part in a community dialogue that would include both projects. He did not, however, agree to an additional university-sponsored public hearing or to extend the timeline for comments on the Underhill DEIR.
The university’s Underhill Projects include:
• Replacing the parking structure on the block bordered by College Avenue, Channing Way, Bowditch Street and Haste Street, deemed seismically unsafe and demolished in 1993. The university plans to replace the original 946-car garage with a 1,000-car structure, capable of housing some 1,400 cars when attendant parking is used. Today’s capacity on that surface lot is 425 cars, when parked by attendants.
• Building dining facilities, offices and child care on the same lot as the parking structure. The existing dining facilities at Units 1 and 2 would be demolished because they are deemed seismically unsafe.
• Building a sports field atop the garage to replace the one that was demolished.
• Building new housing that would include a 210-bed apartment complex at Channing Way and Bowditch Street; an apartment complex at College and Durant avenues that would house 120 people; and in-fill residence halls at Units 1 and 2 to provide 540 new beds.
• Demolition of the Fox Cottage, located at 2612 Channing Way, a structure listed on the State Historic Resources Inventory.
The Southside Plan is a joint city-university project, designed to map out a plan for future development of the south-of-campus area.
Speakers called on the university to revisit the Underhill Projects. Building parking rather than housing makes little environmental sense, they said.
“Build housing so students can walk to school,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington.
Echoing the call to prioritize houses over parking, Michael Yarne, from Students for a Livable Southside, noted that buses in the area of the project “are already at a standstill.”
Bicycle activist and Southside resident Jason Meggs pointed out that the Underhill parking garage was planned for the very intersection where two of the city’s bicycle boulevards would intersect - Bowditch Street and Channing Way.
“There’s too much parking, and in the wrong place,” Meggs said.
Other criticisms of the DEIR included:
• Inadequate consideration of the impact of the 1,400-car facility and specifics about when it would be attendant-parked.
• Inadequate consideration of alternatives sites for housing, offices, parking and for the demolition of the historically significant Fox Cottage.
• Lack of an analysis of how building more car-free housing might reduce the number of parking spaces needed.
• Lack of analysis of air quality impacts due to increased traffic.
Send comments on the Underhill project to Senior Planner Jennifer Lawrence, Capital Projects, 300 A & E Building #1382, Berkeley CA 94720-1382.