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Library Gardens Accord Ruptures Over Parking

Tuesday January 06, 2004

A compromise designed to increase public parking spaces at Library Gardens—a massive housing development slated to replace a downtown parking garage—appears to have stalled, and the project is now set to go before the city’s Zoning Adjustment Board with just 11 spaces set aside for the public. 

Negotiations between the project developer TransAction Companies and the Berkeley-Albany YMCA on construction of an underground public parking lot broke down last week over how much the YMCA should contribute to the project and how many parking spaces and hours should be devoted to them. 

“We provided them with what we thought was a generous offer and we’re disappointed in their response,” said TransAction Senior Vice President John DeClerq. 

The 176-unit development—the largest ever planned for the city center—would rise just west of the library at the site of the 362-space Kittredge Street garage. The project has drawn opposition from downtown merchants who fear the loss of the garage’s parking spaces will keep people away from the downtown’s chief attractions—the YMCA, library and movie theaters that bring in visitors who patron other downtown shops. 

To head off a fight at Thursday’s ZAB hearing and prevent future appeals, DeClerq last month proposed teaming up with the YMCA to build one level of parking below the development that would provide 124 extra parking spaces, seventy-five percent of which would be available to Y members during peak hours of 6-10 a.m. daily and 4-7 p.m. on weekdays. The public would have rights to the entire lot during other times of the day. 

The Downtown Berkeley Association(DBA)—a merchant group on which DeClerq serves on the executive board and is about to become its treasurer—announced last month they would withdraw their opposition to the project if DeClerq and the Y could strike a deal. 

But the Y rejected TransAction’s initial offer, which called for it to pay $5,000 per month on a 30-year lease to secure parking for its members and chip in $1 million over ten years for construction of a lot the city has estimated would cost between $ 6.8 and $10 million.  

DeClerq in turn rejected a counteroffer issued by the Y Friday calling it “significantly less than we had hoped.” 

The Y offered to pay $500,000 up front, with no future monthly payments and no 30-year lease. Their proposal also called for rights to all of the added parking spaces throughout the day except for a window from 1-4 p.m. when the lot would be available for the public, DeClerq said. 

The Y had been paying $5,000 per month for its members to park for free at the Kittredge garage until DeClerq terminated the deal in November in preparation for beginning construction. 

Failure to reach an agreement before the Thursday ZAB meeting would complicate negotiations, but not kill the deal, said YMCA CEO Larry Bush. “I see that as an instrumental point, but we’re going to pursue this all the way through,” he said. Bush refused to discuss the terms of the Y’s counteroffer. 

Without a deal in place, DeClerq said he’ll present ZAB with his current proposal providing 116 parking spaces, all but 11 reserved for residents of the complex. That plan meets all city development requirements, has the support of the planning department and is expected to pass the ZAB. 

A win at the ZAB level wouldn’t necessarily give TransAction a green light for the development. 

DeClerq predicted the Y would appeal to City Council any ZAB ruling favorable to TransAction and wage other delaying tactics to forestall construction, scheduled to start this spring. 

A lengthy delay could cost Transaction millions in carrying costs on the garage and lead to higher construction prices, said a source close to the negotiations. 

“Both sides are playing chicken,” the source added. “DeClerq knows he can build the project, but he doesn’t want it delayed. The two sides are struggling to work out a compromise and neither wants to blink first.” 

Bush refused to speculate if he would appeal a ZAB ruling to council. 

When first proposed in 2000, Library Gardens was the darling of downtown developments. In addition to the 176 units of one- and two-bedroom apartments—projected to house about 300 tenants—and the five retail shops still included in the design, the project also called for two levels of underground parking, replacing all of the spaces lost from the Kittredge lot. 

But despite unanimous approval from both the ZAB and Council, DeClerq pulled the plug on the project in 2002, complaining that the costs to build underground parking—roughly $45,000 per spot—made the development unfeasible. 

When he reintroduced the project in late 2002 without the promised parking the DBA turned on it, arguing that the plan threatened the viability of anchor tenants served by the lot that they estimated serves 3,000-5,000 visitors daily.