How do we count the living spaces in the downtown? The the building boom – the bedroom, loft, and studio building boom – now underway should leave some public record of what it has accomplished. The General Plan on page 12 in its Land Use Element gives a beginning: a table of 10 residential mixed-use projects recently or nearly finished, each one listed with an address, the project type (rental, condo) and the number of units. But a living space is better measured by the bedroom than by the unit, and with the assistance this week of two diligent city planners (this information is not usually part of the necessary public record), the bedroom count for seven of the 10 can be given: for the seven projects, 300 units and 440 bedrooms (including lofts and studios). The other three still need research.
Among the seven projects is the Gaia building, which led in both units (91) and bedrooms (146), but its leadership may be short-lived. On Oct. 11 ZAB approved a housing project for 2020 Kittredge St. Its developers want to call it Library Gardens, but with 176 units and – are you sitting down? – 320 bedrooms, it might better be called The Village. And Gardens or Village, it will be right next to the Central Library.
All this may be news to you, particularly the size of the project, which has moved very quietly through the permitting channels, though it has taken a year and a half. The quietness is partly due to the noise elsewhere in the Berkeley construction scene involving Gaia. But it is also because the Central Library has been absent from its home on Kittredge since October, 1998. Without patrons and supporters coming daily to Kittredge, a developer (the Use Permit application for the project is dated May, 2000) might imagine that the library building is the library. Not so: only a library in residence is a library. And a library in residence is its own best – and I think only true – spokesperson.
What effect will this huge project have on the Central Library?
The project is part of the larger movement toward “infilling” the downtown with mixed-use residential, a process I see having no end, since one can always find underperforming property and work to convert it.
But infilling implies filling – with people. The downtown will suddenly have a population it has not had, and that population will be first in line to use the new Central Library. If the demand is heavy enough, Central may unofficially become Downtown, though it has been redesigned to be Central – to all of Berkeley.
Will the extra local demand require a future expansion? My guess is that it will, in 10 to 15 years. But also, if I understand the design of the project next door at 2020 Kittredge, no expansion will physically be possible. What a problem: pressure, and no way to release it.
Is there a way to challenge The Village? The ZAB process allows only a short appeals period, which for this project expires at 5 p.m. Tuesday Nov. 6. Someone with more insight than me into the project and the appeals process might want to take up the challenge. But Yes or No, there is a challenge here for ZAB: it is time they televised their meetings. This project may be the largest one downtown since the trenching for BART in 1971, and with 420 people (my estimate, a low one, I think), will shift the center of people gravity significantly southwest.
Televising ZAB meetings will allow both public scrutiny and the scrutiny of the process of public scrutiny. ZAB most certainly followed the procedures, but it would have been much better if more people could have been watching and commenting. And more should be watching and commenting now and in the near future as this great change of downtown to mixed-use residential is contemplated, planned and executed.
Former co-chair Measure R