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UC Berkeley wants housing on seven acres of farm land

Matthew Artz
Thursday October 03, 2002

ALBANY – Community gardeners and a local architect are staging a last ditch effort to save a plot of Albany farm land from being toppled by a development. 

Officials at UC Berkeley are preparing to replace seven acres of agriculture land known as the Gill  


Tract with two little league baseball fields and a community center. The plan is part of a larger effort to redevelop the adjacent 77-acre University Village, a community for UC students with children, along San Pablo Avenue, between Monroe and Buchanan streets.  

But opponents of the university’s plan who support urban agriculture say the university’s goal can be met while preserving the historic farm land, which has been cultivated continuously since the 19th century. 

Carla Hyman, a designer with DSA Architects of Berkeley, said she has devised a way to provide playing fields without surrendering any farm land. This week, Hyman submitted her plan to the two development companies competing to build the project for UC Berkeley. 

UC planner Jeff Bond, who had not yet seen Hyman’s proposal, said he was open to ideas that will save the farm land, but was skeptical that it could be done. “If they can incorporate all of the issues that would be great,” Bond said. 

While the university’s proposal calls for playing fields on the Gill Tract, Hyman’s plan would put them south of the tract where unused greenhouses stand.  

University officials, though, said parking and traffic concerns make this land unsuitable for playing fields. The current plan here calls for “creative” uses to be determined by the developer. 

Agriculture supporters say the university is underplaying the importance of farming at the site. 

“The Gill Tract is just as much an asset to the community as baseball fields, housing or retail space,” Hyman argued. 

Urban Roots, a group formed to support urban agriculture, maintains that the Gill Tract, which is currently home to an experimental corn-growing project and a small community garden, is too valuable to plow over. 

“There is nothing else like the Gill Tract anywhere in urban California,” said Josh Miner, a graduate student at the college of natural resources, which operates the tract. “This is the only resource that could be used to study how to better grow and distribute food in urban areas.” 

But UC planners say urban agriculture is not a top concern. 

“The university is most interested in developing reasonably priced housing for students,” said Bond.  

The university’s plan calls for the construction of more than 330 new housing units to bring the total number of units at University Village to 722. An undetermined number of shops and restaurants are also part of the plan. 

Albany officials support the university’s plan. “The community wants to see the site preserved for open space and they see baseball fields as a way to preserve that,” said David Dowswell, Albany’s planning manager.