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Southside redevelopment to focus on traffic,housing

By Juliet Leyba Daily Planet Staff
Friday November 17, 2000

A handful of dedicated Berkeley residents and activists braved the rain and traffic Wednesday evening to attend the regular planning commission meeting and make comments and suggestions to the most recent draft of the Southside Plan.  

Although the Southside Plan is still early in its draft stage, City planners hope to create more mixed-income housing while maintaining the character of the neighborhood just south of the University of California. Planners also want to study solutions to some of the area’s traffic woes. 

No action was taken on the plan, which was prepared by the City of Berkeley and the University of California at Berkeley.  

An immediate study was put off in part because the planning commission, which oversees the general plan as well as the Southside plan, has been operating with a skeleton staff because members have left due to health reasons or because they have been lured away to other jobs. 

“We are well within sight of completing these plans but we need staff to make that happen,” Planning Commissioner Robert Wrenn said. “We will continue to make changes to the plans and move them forward but whether we will meet our deadlines or not remains to be seen.” 

In the meantime, commissioners and residents discussed three elements that will be crucial once the study is under way – transportation, community character and design guidelines.  

The major transportation issue is whether Durant and Bancroft streets should be reverted into two way streets again, Wrenn said. 

“We need to flesh out alternatives so that we can make the correct changes to the plan and we are working toward doing that,” Wrenn said. 

Members of the Bicycle Friendly Berkeley Coalition also commented on traffic and bike paths and suggested creating a bus lane on Durant and Bancroft streets to help ensure the cyclist safety. Jonathan Cass, a southside cyclist, urged the commission to consider keeping the streets one way and to keep the current stop signs in place. Cass argued that installing traffic signals would encourage car traffic and hinder bicyclists and pedestrians. 

“Traffic signals are a way to move automobile traffic. That area is dominated by foot and cycle traffic and that should be our first concern,” Cass said. 

Sara Wikander, president of the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, submitted four pages of revisions her organization would like to see made to the Southside plan. She was also present to address the community character element of the plan. 

“I believe that full use permits should continue to be required for new construction in the Southside. New construction should not be isolated or jarring in design and should blend with existing buildings,” Wikander said. 

Full use permits require a public hearing and approval before any new construction or additions to existing buildings can begin. 

John English of BAHA suggested that the commission rethink the draft of the Southside “sub areas’ to better protect several distinct locales. 

“Sweeping policies should not be applied to the whole Southside. There are many sub areas that need to be protected as separate areas. Remember that the decisions you make are going to be decisions we will have to live with for a very long time.” 

The overall goal of the Southside plan is to increase housing at locations close to campus and close to transportation and protect adjacent residential neighborhoods south of Dwight Street and east of College Street, according to Robert Wrenn. 

“We want to do that by allowing less intense development near south of Dwight and College streets and more intense housing closer to the university and will be making careful considerations of all comments and suggestions.” 

All suggestions made at Wednesday’s meeting as well as past meetings will be taken under consideration by the commission, according to Karen Haney-Owen of the planning and development department  

“We’ve covered all the elements of the plan and we’ve completed phase one of the public review. All we need now is the staff so that we can begin re-working the draft.”