Commuters to Berkeley’s downtown might be in a tight spot if the city approves a proposed housing project on top of the 350–space Hinks parking lot, at Kittredge Street between Shattuck Avenue and Milvia Street.
Library Gardens, a development containing 176 units of housing and ground-floor retail – the largest project ever proposed for downtown – is back before city planners after being scrapped last year, but now includes fewer parking spaces. Cost overruns on a planned two-level underground parking garage killed the project previously.
Now, the plan includes the same four stories of housing and five shops, but nixes all underground parking.
Developer John DeClercq put forth the proposal at a presentation to the Downtown Business Association (DBA) Thursday, and faced more questions about what his plan lacked than what it offered.
“We’re very concerned about the impact of losing parking,” said DBA Executive Director Deborah Badhia. “The lot is 20 percent of the total [downtown] public parking supply.”
The revised development calls for a 129 space ground floor lot with 105 permits sold to residents. This means a net loss of 221 public parking spaces at the site.
The development would exacerbate downtown parking woes, city officials said. According to the Environmental Impact Report for the new Vista College campus on Center Street, when the campus is completed, downtown Berkeley will have a parking shortage of 609 spaces on weekday afternoons and 308 spaces on weeknight evenings.
DeClercq, however, noting that zoning laws require that he supply only 105 parking spaces, said he was not required to compensate the city for the parking that his development would displace.
“This [plan] is within the codes,” DeClercq told DBA members, adding that it was ultimately the city’s responsibility to deal with the downtown parking shortage.
Berkeley transportation director Peter Hillier replied that “the city is not in the parking business on its own,” but added that it was too early to weigh in on the development.
To alleviate the parking crunch, DeClercq said he would open his lot to the public on the assumption that residents would drive to work for the day, opening spaces for visitors to the downtown.
But DBA members were skeptical that the plan would work. They argued that many of the residents would leave their cars in the lot during the day so that spaces would not be available for downtown workers or shoppers.
Last year’s plan, which was approved unanimously by City Council and supported by the DBA, called for DeClercq to build a two-level underground garage to make up for the loss of the Hinks lot. However, because of high ground water levels at the site, construction proved too costly.
“Every week it was another million,” DeClercq said.
Badhia estimated that underground parking costs roughly $50,000 per parking space. The high price, she said, prompts most developers to offer only the minimum number of spaces required.
A city rule that requires general fund transportation money to fund transit projects before parking, has also served to limit Berkeley’s parking supply, she said.
Despite the parking issue, DeClercq believed the development could help downtown businesses. He estimated that the 176 units would house 300 residents. “That’s a lot of library cards, that’s a lot of theater tickets,” he said.
The project still needs approval from the Zoning Adjustment Board. If passed, the development would begin in March and be completed within 18 months, DeClercq said.
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