Neighbors of West Campus, the school district’s property on University Avenue, got their first glimpse of the conceptual plan for the site Thursday night and most didn’t like it.
The gathering, held in the vacant on-site cafeteria, drew a smaller and ca lmer turnout than the last session on April 21, but the underlying tension remained.
The clearest illustrations of the conflict were the two rival plans proposed for the site, one from the Berkeley Unified School District and its consultant, the other fr om the West Campus Neighborhood-Merchant Association (WestNEMA)—a group formed in response to the district’s push for development at the site.
The district’s version, drafted with the help of consultant David C. Early and his firm, Design Community & Env ironment, calls for about 152 parking spaces in three lots—two of them in locations which neighbors found objectionable.
The neighbors’ plan preserved the area south of the gym between Browning and Curtis streets as a grassy park area with a small presch ool/childcare facility at the southwest corner of the property. In the same space, the district plan calls for 60 parking spaces in two lots on either side of a daylighted Strawberry Creek.
Because that portion is in the heart of the residential neighbor hood, neighbors decried the increased traffic that would inevitably result. They also faulted the district/Early plan for allowing vehicle access to the main campus area from Addison Street, a concept they had rejected in previous sessions.
“We don’t wan t any parking south of Addison except for day care, and we don’t want any surface parking,” said Barbara Boucher to nods of approval from others in the audience.
WestNEMA proposed a 200-to-250-car parking structure in the main campus area north of Addiso n Street.
While the district plan calls for housing the district’s warehouse, kitchen and building and grounds facility on the main portion of West Campus site, neighbors urged the district to move those services to the new district bus facility at Sixth and Gilman streets on land which the district has proposed to develop for commercial purposes.
City Councilmember Darryl Moore, whose district includes the site, told the gathering he sided with the neighbors.
“[Those services] need to be on Gilman Str eet and away from this residential community,” Moore said.
District as Developer
Both plans call for private development on the western half of the site along University Avenue, with the WestNEMA proposal asking for a 50 percent larger area than the dis trict draft.
Planning Commissioner David Stoloff also urged private development on the eastern half at the corner of University and Bonar Street—a designated city transportation node which entitles a developer to erect a larger structure.
“I see the sch ool district as a developer, just like the infamous Patrick Kennedy or anyone else,” said Bonar Street resident Joe Walton.
But BUSD acting as a developer would not bound by the same rules as a private individual such as Kennedy, who has build many large apartment building in Berkeley in recent years, including a few along University Avenue, and who has become a polarizing figure in discussions about development and land use in the city.
“The school district is a legally separate agency not beholden to city law in a number of ways,” Early said. “If a project doesn’t fulfill its [instructional] mission, it’s not exempt from city zoning code, and if it’s purely educational it’s exempt. There’s a big gray area in between which will be decided on a building by building basis.”
Former Planning Commissioner Zelda Bronstein said the building and grounds facility and the district warehouse were clearly light industrial uses and therefore not appropriate for a site zoned for commercial and residential, such as West Campus. She also challenged district plans to install commercial uses at the Gilman Street site, which is zoned for light industrial.
Neighbors continued to press for a site committee, putting the question to the two district board members in attendance, Terry Doran and John Selawsky.
“Honestly, I don’t know what it takes” to create a committee, Doran said.
“I will talk to staff,” Selawsky said, “but in the past they have been formed after the board gives conceptual approval to a project.”
Councilmember Moore also endorsed the neighbors’ call for a site committee to work with the district throughout the development process. Neighbors had a sign-up sheet ready for site committee volunteers, and were collecting names as the meeting ended.
Thursday’s session was the fourth of five scheduled meetings on plans for West Campus. The final meeting before the draft master plan goes to the school board for formal consideration on June 29 will be held in the West Campus Cafeteria on June 2 at 7 p.m.
At least one neighbor, Avraham Burrell, said he was talking to an attorney about the project, warning board members that “you’ll hear more on the 29th.”
Mayor’s Aide Talks
Calvin Fong, assistant to Mayor Tom Bates, listened quietly througho ut the meeting until neighbor Richard Graham asked him what the mayor would like to see on the site.
“The mayor is very clear that he would like to see private development on the corner” of University Avenue, he said, “and we are just as anxious as the d istrict to find out under whose jurisdiction the site will be developed.”
Making it clear he was speaking only for himself, Fong said he agreed that surface parking adjacent to a daylighted Strawberry Creek on the southern segment of the property was a b ad idea. He said he was intrigued by the idea of a parking structure, but cautioned that costs would be high.
Grants were available for daylighting the creek, Fong said, but added that he wasn’t clear about the kitchen, warehouse and building and grounds facility.
“We’ll have to see how this plays out,” he said. “Lots of money will be involved.”
The meeting featured one moment of tense levity at the start when Connie McCullah announced that a neighbor was backing up a truck near the open cafeteria rear door so officials could hear the sound residents could expect to hear from delivery and district trucks that would use the site.
Early moved quickly to shut the door, setting off a tense moment. Neighbors later opened the windows to let the sound back in.?b