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Southside Plan draft released to commission, public

By Hank Sims Daily Planet staff
Thursday December 13, 2001

Four years in the making, the Southside Plan came one step closer to completion on Wednesday, as a new draft was released to the public and members of the Planning Commission. 

The new draft, which calls for high-rise, dense housing along Bancroft Way and other blocks near the UC Berkeley campus, was written by members of the commission and incorporates the work of a series of community focus groups held during the first half of this year. 

The plan’s first draft, completed in January 2000, was written by professional planners employed by the city and UC Berkeley. 

In addition to housing and other land-use questions, the Southside Plan addresses transportation, economic development, community character and public safety in the area bounded by Bancroft and Dwight ways and Prospect and Fulton streets. It includes several blocks of Telegraph Avenue. 

Members of the Planning Commission had hoped to circulate the new draft at their Wednesday meeting, but that meeting was canceled. 

Planning Commission Chair Rob Wrenn said the new draft balanced the concerns of long-term neighborhood residents and university students. 

Students, he said, wanted more housing in the Southside area, while neighborhood groups feared intense development would worsen the area’s traffic and parking problems. 

“What we’ve worked out is a plan that encourages development, but encourages it in areas close to the campus and transit corridors,” he said. 

The new draft calls for three housing “sub-areas.” The six blocks closest to campus would be designated as a “residential mixed use” district, in which large housing developments, as well as new offices, hotels, religious facilities and many other services would be allowed. 

A larger, “high density” district, intended to encourage more housing, would be located directly south of the residential mixed-use district. 

The rest of the residential areas in the neighborhood would be designated “medium density,” a designation already used in many parts of the city. 

The entire Southside area west of College Avenue – aside from the commercial district along Telegraph and Durant avenues – is currently designated for high-density development. 

Wrenn said that the intent of the proposed zoning changes was to “step down” from dense housing and high buildings in the center of the district into the low-density neighborhoods surrounding the Southside area. 

The new draft of the plan may chill relations between the city and UC Berkeley. The city and university had worked together on the plan’s first draft. Thomas Lollini, the university’s planning director, wrote a letter to the Planning Commission contesting certain land-use elements in the new draft of the plan.  

In the letter, Lollini protested the fact that several university properties east of Telegraph Avenue are included in the high density zone, which prohibits office development, rather than in the residential mixed-use zone. 

“The university considers this zoning map to have been drawn with the intent of forcing the university to develop several of its sites for residential use only, while non-university owners... in similar settings are allowed much greater development flexibility,” Lollini wrote. 

Wrenn denied the charge, saying that the subcommittee of the Planning Commission responsible for writing the most recent draft had done a painstaking analysis of each block in the neighborhood.  

The subcommittee’s proposed zoning map takes into account the current character of each of these blocks, Wrenn said. 

“They seem to think that there’s some sort of attempt to zone UC properties differently than non-UC properties, but that’s not our intent,” Wrenn said. 

The transportation element of the plan has yet to be finalized. During the upcoming months, the Planning Commission will have to come to agreement about whether to convert Bancroft Way and Durant Avenue into two-way streets. They will also consider the idea of closing Telegraph Avenue to automobile traffic. 

One of the reasons for the long process is that amendments to the city zoning ordinance related to the plan are being written simultaneously. Usually, zoning amendments are written and implemented after a plan has been adopted.  

In the case of the West Berkeley Plan, for example, several years passed between the adoption of the plan and its implementation in the zoning code. 

The Planning Commission has made completion of the plan its top priority over the coming months, and Wrenn said Wednesday that he hopes to hand a final draft to the city council by July. The final version of the plan will be incorporated into the city’s General Plan.