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West Berkeley Redevelopment Project Nearly Complete By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Friday April 22, 2005

Berkeley City Councilmembers will meet an hour before their regular Tuesday night meeting to consider the new—and final—five-year-plan for the West Berkeley Redevelopment Area. 

Sitting as the Berkeley Redevelopment Agency, the council will also hear a staff report on the history of the district, originally established in 1967. The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. in council chambers, 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way. 

Creation of the district blocked industrial expansion into the area bounded by Cedar Street on the north, University Avenue on the south, the I-80 Frontage Road on the west and Sixth Street on the east. 

The project area also includes the rail stop and transit plaza adjacent to the now vacant 1913 Southern Pacific Railroad Station, including a narrow strip along the Union Pacific rails between Hearst Avenue and Addison Street and a second strip along University Avenue extending from the tracks to Fourth Street. 

Construction on the plaza began in late February, and the $2.4 million project will include nighttime lighting, a canopy covering the trackside area, improved access for the disabled, street repaving and new striping for more efficient access by buses, bicycles, paratransit, shuttles and taxis, landscaping and benches. 

The site will include four bus pads, 18 two-hour parking spaces and six long-term slots with no time limits. 

Iris Starr, the planner in charge of the project, said the long-term spaces will be of particular help to commuters who catch an early morning train to jobs at UC Davis. 

The project is scheduled to be completed in the next two or three months. 

“The number one thing is for it to be a good-looking, long-lasting project, but I’ll settle for on-time and on budget, too,” Starr said. 

The creation of the transit node, as it’s known in plannerese, could create some additional controversy in light of recent changes in state law. 

The landmarked rail station is in the same square block where Urban Housing Group (UHG) plans to build a major new mixed-use housing and commercial project. UHG, a subsidiary of real estate investment giant Marcus and Milichap, specializes in building projects at transit nodes. 

The project has drawn fire from preservationists and some neighbors. Preservationists are worried because the site includes another Berkeley landmark, the now vacant Celia’s restaurant, which was designed by architect Irwin Johnson and designated a structure of merit by the Landmarks Preservation Commission earlier this year. 

The commission refused to designate another building on the site, Brennan’s Irish Pub, which UHG has promised to install in the railroad station. 

Of special concern are recent changes in state law which allow cities to ease normal zoning requirements within the immediate vicinity of transit-oriented developments. Berkeley Planning Director Dan Marks said the city has no plans at the moment to implement the provision. 

“No one has asked the staff if they would apply it to this or any other project,” he said. 

John McBride, who sits on the advisory-only West Berkeley Project Area Committee, said the provisions allow zoning for transit-oriented projects without the normal findings of blight required for most redevelopment projects and allow development without any reference to the city’s General Plan. 

The advisory committee itself is slated for dissolution at the end of 2006 as the redevelopment project winds down. 

Remaining projects to be completed during the new and final five-year plan include paving of Second Street in the industrial area of the West Berkeley Project Area and the creation of an access route along Addison Street to the pedestrian/bicycle bridge over the Eastshore Freeway, as well as landscaping improvements along area streets.