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Commission Passes University Avenue Zoning Amendments

Friday July 30, 2004

Eight years in the making, the Zoning Ordinance amendments which implement the University Avenue Strategic Plan sailed through their penultimate hurdle Wednesday night when the Berkeley Planning Commission voted 6-1 to approve a draft and send it on to the City Council. 

“We’re still concerned with some of the provisions,” said Stephen Wollmer of PlanBerkeley, a community group organized around University Avenue zoning issues. 

One of Wollmer’s key concerns is that the plan creates a new residential zoning type that would allow lot-line-to-lot-line buildings. 

“There should be an analysis before we start lining University and San Pablo Avenues with these things,” he said. “But we did come a long way.” 

Planning Commissioner Gene Poschman, who voted with the majority, said the plan should provide more protections, especially for the residents of the north side of University because of provisions that will ensure they receive more sun and light on their properties. 

A mandatory setback of twenty feet on the south side should help encourage retail business. The plan also establishes mandatory proportions for food and personal services business. 

“Within the constraints we faced, we did about as well as we could have,” he said. 

One of Poschman’s laments was that they weren’t able to create more parking spaces for residential tenants, “but Berkeley has one of the lowest requirements in the known world.” 

He acknowledged that “the great scandal in Berkeley zoning is that there are no limits on the number of residential units per acre in the R-3 zoning along the major thoroughfares,” which neighbors had sought to impose. 

“The real 900-pound gorilla in Berkeley is the density bonus,” which allows developers to build bigger buildings than code allows if they install low-income units and cultural space in their buildings. 

“That’s something we’re going to have to deal with eventually,” he said.  

Still, Poschman said, “we did a good job.” 

He singled out Principal Planner Alan Gatzke for special praise in helping the commission through the arduous process that led to the 470-line document adopted Wednesday.ª