City Staff Urges Approval Of 9-Floor Seagate Project: By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Friday August 27, 2004

Plans for the 115-foot tall, 186,151-square-foot nine-story Seagate Building will go to the Zoning Adjustments Board for a second public hearing on Sept. 9, following an earlier session held Thursday night. 

City staff has urged adoption of the controversial project, which includes 149 residential units, 12,067 square feet of ground floor space for the Berkeley Repertory Theater, 5769 square feet of ground floor retail and three floors of underground parking. 

One major question remains to be decided, said city Senior Planner Greg Powell.  

“The application was presented as a rental contract,” he said, “but the applicant has said they are considering doing it as condos.” 

The project entails demolition of four buildings from 2041 to 2067 Center St., between the City Center Garage and the Wells Fargo Annex, including two structures currently used by the Berkeley Rep, one building used by Vista Community College and a Ritz Camera store. 

The new structure’s address would be 2065 Center St.  

While the city’s General Plan limits downtown buildings to five stories, the building gained two more floors under the cultural facility density bonus by providing space for Berkeley Rep. 

The other two floors were awarded because Seagate guaranteed it would offer 23 units at rates affordable by low- and lower-income tenants (respectively those earning 81 percent and 50 percent or less of the Oakland metropolitan area median income). 

The development by Seagate Properties, Inc., of San Rafael would rival the Gaia Building as the tallest structure built in the city in recent decades. 

City Manager Phil Kamlarz and staff had been working with the developer Darrell de Tienne for more than two-and-a-half years before the project was first unveiled publicly at a meeting of the Civic Arts Commission Feb. 25. 

Though the commission voted to endorse the project, members voiced frustration at receiving the plans only two days before their scheduled vote. The proposal went before the commission to receive their blessing on the cultural density bonus. 

Two commissioners, Bonnie Hughes and Jos Sances, dissented, saying they were reluctant to hand control over one of the largest performance spaces in the city to a well-funded group at a time when other organizations are struggling to find performance venues.  

Under their lease with Seagate, Berkeley Rep is obligated to hold its own public performances in the building 48 days a year and to make the space available to other non-profit arts groups for another 52 days a year and submit annual documentation that they are fulfilling their obligation. 

Berkeley Rep will bill the nonprofits according to a fixed schedule, 26 days billed at actual operating costs excluding rent, one fourth at half actual costs excluding rent and the remainder at a quarter of costs excluding rental.  

Project developer Seagate is a privately held five-member partnership with extensive real estate holdings in the Bay Area and apartments in Colorado. Berkeley holdings listed on their website include the 12-story Wells Fargo Building at 2149 Shattuck Ave. (site of their local office), and structures at 1950 and 2039-2040 Addison St., 2055 Center St. (slated for demolition to build the 9-story building) and 1918 and 1936 University Ave. 

The proposed Mitigated Negative Declaration calls for approval if the developer fulfills a list of requirements, including providing housing and space required for the cultural and low-income housing bonuses, minimizing noise, dust and other impacts during construction, and installing 74 bicycle stalls for residents and another eight for shoppers and users of the Berkeley Rep space. 

The city’s proposal also requires the developer to pay $15,000 toward construction of a downtown Berkeley BART bike facility and another $15,000 to upgrade traffic signals at both ends of the block. 

A similar traffic signal fee is being imposed on the new Vista College Building rising just across Center Street from the Seagate site.