In an abrupt about-face, developers of the largest housing complex ever planned for the city center have agreed to build 124 underground public parking spaces to partially offset the loss of the Kittredge Garage.
The decision, relayed in a letter to city planners that was made public last week, has turned the plan’s chief detractors—downtown merchants—into supporters and bolsters its chances for approval by the Zoning Adjustment Board (ZAB) when it revisits the plan in two weeks.
The proposal was enough to sway the Downtown Berkeley Association (DBA), a merchant group which organized opposition to the proposal at January’s ZAB meeting. “It’s the best we can hope for,” said DBA Executive Director Deborah Bahdia.
Outgoing DBA President Rauly Butler said judging from the January hearing, he expected the ZAB to approve the project on Feb. 26. “It was pretty darn obvious how pissed off they were with [the developers] for not having the parking,” he said. “I think they read that and figured it was more cost effective to put the parking in than risk delaying the project another year.”
Last month ZAB commissioners refused a use permit to TransAction Companies insisting they needed to offset some of the parking losses facing the city when they demolish their 375-space Kittredge Street Garage—25 percent of all downtown parking spaces—to make way for the 176-unit housing complex.
TransAction Senior Vice President John DeClerq had been negotiating with the Berkeley-Albany YMCA for three months to jointly finance one level of underground parking with special privileges for Y members, but when negotiations broke down he opted to build the parking himself.
DeClerq suggested that further studies showed the 124 underground parking spaces—expected to cost between $7 and $10 million—might not be quite the money pit he initially believed and that the cost of further delays in obtaining his use permit could jeopardize the project.
“We did a new analysis and a fresh look came up with fresh answers,” DeClerq said, adding his offer hinged on speedy approval from the ZAB, either at the scheduled hearing on Feb. 26 or shortly thereafter.
TransAction’s change of heart, came just eight days after their attorney Allan Abshez wrote a stern letter to city officials warning that if they proceeded with further delays or attempts to hold TransAction responsible for maintaining the city’s parking supply it would assume “liability for unlawful delegation of its police power authority.”
While ZAB commissioners refused to speculate on their vote, Commission Chair Laurie Capitelli said, “We certainly communicated to him at the last meeting we wanted to see the loss of the parking structure mitigated and it seems like he’s moving in that direction.”
The new plan calls for 240 spaces on one ground floor and underground level, with 110 spaces reserved for tenants and commercial vehicles and 130 for the general public—about a third of the current garage’s capacity, but enough to meet the average peak time demand, according to DeClerq.
The Y remains lukewarm on the proposal. CEO Larry Bush said he didn’t know if his group would support the new plan and cast doubt that it would help fund the parking, saying, “We’re just going to live life as it comes.”
When first proposed in 2000, Library Gardens included two levels of underground parking to replace the garage, but cost overruns scuttled the plan, which DeClerq reintroduced in 2002 with housing for about 280 tenants, but no parking.