Commission OKs Gilman Fields, Hears Bowl Critics By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Friday July 29, 2005

A short-handed Planning Commission Wednesday endorsed the Gilman Street ballfields and set a Sept. 14 hearing on the proposed West Berkeley Bowl.  

A planned discussion of the Downtown Area Plan, mandated under the terms of the settlement of the city’s suit against UC Berkeley, wasn’t held because it hadn’t been moved the commission’s action agenda. 

The resignations of members David Tabb and Joe Fireman accounted for two empty chairs and the absence of Chair Harry Pollack was balanced by the presence of Mike Sheen, a temporary appointment for the night. 


Bowl scope 

First up on the agenda was a scoping session seeking public input on issues to be addressed in the Environmental Impact Report on the Berkeley Bowl project, planned for the southwest corner of the intersection of Ninth Street and Heinz Avenue. 

Most speakers were somewhat critical of the project, raising concerns about the way it had doubled in scale from its initial proposal. 

Many concerns had to do with traffic and parking issues, not only regarding the store itself, but in combination with other developments now being built or in planning for the West Berkeley area.  

Several speakers focused on Mayor Tom Bates’ plans for expanded commercial development along the Ashby Avenue and Gilman Street corridors, which they said would further increase traffic and parking problems on already overcrowded thoroughfares. 

“This could be a tipping point for commercial development up and down Ashby Avenue,” said Steve Wollmer of PlanBerkeley.org. “The interchange at I-80 is already at capacity, and this project would have more approval if it were situated on the frontage road between University [Avenue] and Gilman where there are fewer residences.” 

Laurie Bright, who owns a business three blocks from the Bowl site, ticked off a list of new and planned developments near the property. 

“There are big changes being planned at City Hall for West Berkeley,” he said, noting that the area is zoned for manufacturing and light industrial uses, “and we need a real analysis of that they would impact business and residences around the area if they were rezoned for commercial uses.”  

Area resident Claude Hutchinson, a regular attendee at city- and developer-sponsored meetings on the project, offered his endorsement of the project. 

“If the Bowl doesn’t go in, something else will,” he said, “and we’ve long needed a wonderful grocery store that will serve the needs of the neighborhood.” 

Michael Larrick also spoke in favor of the proposal, saying the project wouldn’t add any significant amount of new traffic or air quality problems. 

But the great majority of speakers said that they wanted the study to consider a smaller project, something architect Kava Massih has said wouldn’t be economically feasible for owner Glen Yasuda. Massih was on hand for part of the discussion but offered no comments. 

Following the scoping session, the Planning Commission voted unanimously to conduct a hearing on Sept. 28 on changes to the West Berkeley Plan and Berkeley Zoning Ordinance needed before the project can move forward. 


Gilman Ballfields 

The commission made short work of zoning and plan changes required to create a set of playing fields at the foot of Gilman Street on land owned by the East Bay Regional Parks District. 

A Joint Powers Agreements among the cities of Emeryville, Berkeley, Albany, El Cerrito and Richmond and the parks district calls for creation of two rectangular playing fields, two softball diamonds and one regulation baseball diamond on land that is now used as the southern parking lot of Golden Gate Fields. 

Only Berkeley resident L.A. Woods spoke in opposition, raising his concerns about the effects that freeway exhaust might have on young players. 

The commission, however, agreed with city staff’s Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) which said air quality concerns were minimal. 

Unanimous votes approved sending the MND and the plan and zoning changes along to the city council with their recommendations for adoption. 

Only enough money has been raised for the two artificial turf rectangular fields, which can be used for soccer, rugby, lacrosse and football. If all goes as planned those fields will open for play next September. 


Condo ordinance 

The commission declined to take any action on revisions to the city’s condominium ordinance, which were mandated after a 2004 court case invalidated the city’s law restricting the right to convert larger rental properties into Tenancies-In-Common. 

When the state Supreme Court refused to overturn the verdict of the San Francisco appellate court last December, Berkeley set about revising its own ordinance—which contained the same provisions struck down in the San Francisco law. 

On May 17, the City Council passed a temporary ordinance which expires on Oct. 28, leaving time to prepare a more thorough ordinance in the interim. 

The draft presented to the commission Wednesday had been drafted by the city Housing Department and Housing Advisory Commission and was presented by Housing Director Steve Barton. 

Because the court decision makes it possible to convert multi-unit buildings from rentals to TIC—which Barton described as a problematic form of ownership—city staff decided that the best solution would be to ease up on conversions to condominium ownership. 

After a lengthy discussion, the commission decided there were too many unanswered questions and handed off the matter to the council without additional comment.