In advance of their eighth and final session today (Tuesday, April 27), members of the Planning Commission Task Force on the proposed downtown UC Hotel complex are looking over the first draft of the report they’ll give the City Council in early June.
The 13-page document spells out the recommendations the panel adopted in their April 13 session, which ended before decisions were reached on:
• Daylighting Strawberry Creek along the block of Center Street between Shattuck Avenue and Oxford Street that the panel already voted should be closed to routine traffic and transformed into a pedestrian corridor.
• Offering ground-level eateries on the hotel side of the proposed Center Street plaza, preferably with outdoor seating.
• A call for streetfront facades to conform to the rhythm of existing buildings.
• Grouping retail uses into a continuous frontage.
• Utilizing universal accessibility design in pedestrian public spaces and addressing universal accessibility needs at every level of planning and design.
• A few proposals relating to economic impacts, taxes and finance.
Decisions on those items will be made from 1 to 3:30 p.m. today (Tuesday, April 27) in the Sitka Spruce Conference Room of the Permit Service Center, 2120 Milvia St.
Drafters of the task force’s preliminary report, which will be finalized after today’s session, grouped their recommendations into nine main subject areas:
• 1. “Create a public pedestrian-oriented open space or plaza on Center Street between Shattuck Avenue and Oxford Street, immediately to the south of the proposed hotel and conference center site.”
While Task Force members agreed on closing Center Street to traffic, they want it done in a way that doesn’t degrade transit service quality in downtown Berkeley. They also agreed the closed area should include benches, trees, plantings and public art to encourage pedestrians to linger, supplemented by areas for shopping and outdoor dining.
• 2. “Create an overall master plan for the two-block area bordered by University Avenue, Oxford Street, Center Street, and Shattuck Avenue.”
Members agree that the project should be designed as a single integrated project, with a priority on an early study of the impacts of street closure on local businesses and on pedestrian and vehicular traffic. Land swaps should also be considered when appropriate.
Key participants in planning should be the city, the university, local transit agencies, the project developer and the public. Further, the proposed plan envisions that the city should initiate an all-encompassing downtown urban design study to arrive at a community vision for the city core.
• 3. “Implement good design principles for the entire project and its surroundings.”
Task force members want the design to blend harmoniously with the rest of the downtown, offsetting the hotel tower from Shattuck Avenue as far northeast as possible while harmonizing streetfronts with the facades of existing buildings and preserving solar access as much as possible to nearby buildings.
Underground hotel parking should be sited deep enough to avoid creating a garage wall on Center Street, and above ground parking along University Avenue should be offset sufficiently to preserve the street’s retail character.
Developers should hire architects and designers of the highest possible quality to create a bold and distinctive complex.
• 4. “Provide public amenities and community access.”
Members want mid-block pedestrian passageways or galleries to connect Center Street, Addison Street, University Avenue and Walnut Street, improved access from the complex to the Downtown Berkeley BART station (possibly by a sub-street tunnel), a design that directs conference attendees toward downtown shops and merchants.
The task force wants an artist included on the design team, as well as a project budget that allocates at least 1.5 percent of costs to go toward public art, including creations for the plaza.
One suggestion that many Berkeley groups should like calls for conference center operators to consider offering a lower “community rate” on available meeting rooms to non-profits and community groups.
• 5. “Conserve, adaptively re-use, and respect the area’s historic uses.”
Developers will be urged to design their buildings to complement nearby historic buildings and the early 20th Century feel of the downtown. Specifically, the task force is expected to ask that consideration be given to preserving the historic UC Press Building and the street facade and retail character of 2154-2160 University Ave.
• 6. “Design, construct and operate the projects according to green building principles.”
Ideally, developers should aim for creating the greenest hotel in the country following LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) guidelines, incorporating solar energy and sunlight access while minimizing runoff water and installing treatment systems to reduce suspend waste solids and reducing the amount of tap water in sewage flow.
• 7. “Emphasize alternative and public transit instead of automobile access, and provide only limited on-site parking.”
Among proposals adopted are calls for limited parking space available to hotel guests—no more than 25 spaces per hundred rooms—at expensive prices, no free parking for hotel staff and executives (who could be provided with BART ECO Passes), relocation of Center Street bus stops and layovers to other downtown locales and provision of transit information to hotel and conference guests and outdoor displays for pedestrians.
• 8. “Assure labor peace and equity.”
Developers should have a labor agreement in place before construction begins, including a card check neutrality agreement, and give preference to East Bay contractors and subcontractors.
Contractors should include an agreement to comply with city prevailing wage, equal rights benefits, and First Source hiring requirements, provide adequate health car benefits to employees and their families, and contribute to the city job training program.
Members also called for builders to pay city childcare and housing development linkage and mitigation fees.
• 9. “Maximize net economic benefits for the city and for neighboring businesses.”
While the developer will pay city property taxes and fees on the hotel, the task force recommends that the university offer the equivalent amount of taxes and fees on property acquired for non-commercial uses such as the proposed museum complex.
One final suggestion, offered in the preliminary submission by task force chair and Planning Commissioner Rob Wrenn, calls for suspending the task force once the final draft is submitted, instead of dissolving it as originally planned. The suggestion said the task force and planning subcommittee could be reactivated in conjunction with the formal presentation of the developer’s detailed proposal for the site. After contributing their insights throughout the approval process, the panel could then be dissolved with the final city authorizations9