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South Berkeley Residents See New Ed Roberts Campus Plans By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Friday August 13, 2004

South Berkeley residents who live near the Ashby Bart Station gathered Wednesday night to view the latest plans for the Ed Roberts Campus, the two-story center for disability rights, education, training and advocacy named after the founder of the city’s internationally known Center for Independent Living. 

Area residents have expressed dissatisfaction with designs and potential neighborhood impacts during earlier meetings, and architect William Leddy spent most of the 90-minute session explaining the latest site model and how it differed from earlier designs. 

The earliest version, floated before Leddy’s involvement, called for a 130,000-square-foot, three-story structure that would have towered over neighboring homes. 

The latest version is a floor shorter—“to fit the neighborhood,” he said—and the overall size is reduced to 80,000 square feet. 

The architect also added additional trees to reduce sounds to neighbors to the ambient level along Adeline and reduce the building’s visual impact. 

Resident Dale Smith said she worried that the clearly 21st century building would conflict with the largely Colonial Revival style of many of the existing buildings on Adeline. 

“The city has dumped a lot of institutions in the neighborhood,” many of them now “ugly, vacant, and dirty,” and leveled a section of homes for low-cost housing that was never built, she said. 

“When you have a big institution with the help of the city coming into the neighbor, you’ve got to understand our concern,” she emphasized. She also worried that the building’s “international airport style doesn’t really fit” the neighborhood. 

Ron Good, who lives near the corner of Adeline and Woolsey streets, said that “right now, it’s an ugly space,” and he finds the building, with its curved transit plaza in the front “an extremely pleasant and lively space.” 

Dmitri Belser, an ERC activist and executive director for the Center for Accessible Technology in Berkeley, praised the design, especially the copper-clad spiral ramp leading up to the second floor that will feature displays of key moments and people in the history of the disabled rights movement. 

Leddy said the ramp was inspired by the unique design of Manhattan’s Guggenheim museum. 

Belser, who is visually impaired, said that in the past, “the disabled community was housed in two types of buildings—either dumps or institutions. The ramp is very exciting.” 

Erica Cleary, a neighborhood organizer for the 2300 block of Prince Street on the immediate east side of the project, said “My neighbors agree that the design has greatly improved, but I keep hearing concerns that it still has that airplane hangar look.” 

Caleb Dardick, the professional consultant hired to handle community relations for the project, said the campus has slated a preview presentation to the Zoning Adjustments Board. 

The organization has been able to muster about half the needed funds, and Dardick said the rest should come more easily after they win their use permit. “because philanthropists want to see the permit issued before they will fund a project.” 

Also in the audience for the first half of the meeting was the peripatetic Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington. 

The session ended on a largely upbeat note, with plenty of smiles and handshakes.