In a built-up city like Berkeley, there’s not much space for new projects. So when the city offers its parking lot at Oxford Street and Allston Way for development, it’s likely to create a flurry of interest.
The City Council already designated the lot for affordable housing, but the jury is still out on what will actually be built there.
On Tuesday the council will consider a recommendation asking the Planning Commission to develop a process for soliciting public input and creating criteria for potential developers to draw design plans and estimate costs.
Councilmember Dona Spring pointed out that Berkeley residents are being priced out of the housing market. “I would like to see 50 percent of the units designated for very low income tenants and the rest for low income units,” she said.
Berkeley Housing Department Director Stephen Barton, said the definition of very low income housing is a rental rate affordable to people who earn 50 percent of the median income for the area. Low income rents would be set at a rate affordable to people who earn 80 percent of the median income.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has set the current median income for a family of two in the Berkeley area at $54,100. By that standard, a family of two earning $27,000 could rent, under the very low income guidelines, a one-bedroom apartment for $676 per month. The same apartment under the low income guidelines would rent for $1,082.
Councilmember Betty Olds said building too much affordable housing is cost prohibitive. “Where are you going to find the money?” she said. “It’s always nice to have dreams but you have to have money.”
Olds said she would like to see three stories of parking and maybe a hotel or a night club built in addition to housing.
Councilmember Linda Maio said she agreed with the idea of creating as much low income housing as possible at the site, but she said it’s all academic until developers submit proposals with cost benefit analyses. “What this process will do is start to bring in some ideas,” she said.
Under the current Downtown Berkeley Plan, the site is zoned for buildings of three to five stories. However, if the development includes arts space extra stories may be added.
The executive director of the Downtown Berkeley Association, Deborah Badhia, said the DBA supports developing the site but cautioned that parking is a concern to merchants.
“We’re very interested in seeing a mixed-use development, especially with some multicultural uses,” she said. “The site is currently a public parking lot and we would like to see all those public parking spaces built into the new development.”
In addition to the existing 126 parking spaces, planning guidelines require additional parking be built for the residential units and commercial space. Any plan for the new development will have to include one parking space for every three residential units and 1.5 spaces for every 1,000 square feet of commercial space.
Councilmember Kriss Worthington said any discussion about development downtown becomes one about parking. “There are people in this city who would be happy if that site became just a big parking garage,” he said. “We want to make sure all proposals include affordable housing.”