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Developer, ZoningBoard Debate City’s Density Bonus Law By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Friday August 05, 2005

A panel discussing Berkeley’s application of the always controversial density bonus had a surprise visitor Wednesday—developer Patrick Kennedy, perhaps the city’s foremost beneficiary of the law. 

Speaking before members of the Zoning Adjustments Board’s density bonus subcommittee, Kennedy said restricting the bonus that is awarded to developers for including state-mandated affordable units in their projects “will make a significant impact on density in this city. I suspect it will be huge.” 

Members of the ZAB panel were considering possible changes to the formulas now used to calculate maximum building sizes. 

One proposal called for eliminating roof space from consideration as part of a building’s open space requirements. A second examined eliminating counting each level of a parking lift—a technology embraced by Kennedy—as part of a structure’s required parking area. 

“Berkeley should be proud of its open spaces built on roofs,” Kennedy said. 

“If the committee is interested in providing affordable h ousing,” he said, the committee’s work “shouldn’t be done in the way of what is clearly the agenda of some people here who are interested in decreasing density” in the city. 

“We’re not interested in decreasing density,” said Rick Judd, a land use attorn e y who chairs the ZAB density bonus panel. 

“All of these things are designed to chip away at the maximum envelope,” Kennedy said, referring to total permissible project size. 

The developer offered to do an analysis of the impacts that would result from e limination of lift spaces, a suggestion embraced by panel member Dave Blake, who asked Kennedy to present it at a future meeting. 

“It’s something for people to discuss,” said Deputy City Attorney Zac Cowan, who attended the session along with Planning Di rector Dan Marks, Current Planning Manager Mark Rhoades, Principal Planner Debra Sanderson and others. 

Kennedy has specialized in mixed-use buildings in the city center—multiple floors of apartments built over ground floor commercial space—and his Ga ia B uilding at 2116 Allston Way is the tallest structure built in Berkeley in recent years, thanks to concessions granted under the density bonus and the city’s cultural space bonus. 

Both bonuses are written to allow a developer to build larger projects to c ompensate for moneys lost in building affordable housing and providing a space for cultural and arts uses. 

“I want this board to be mindful of the significant consequences of minor modifications,” Kennedy said. “Rezoning of University Avenue has ba sicall y stopped development along University Avenue and will likely continue to do so for the next 20 years.” 

He continued, “Most people in Berkeley are happy with development, as exemplified by the four-to-one margin of defeat of” Measure P, a 2002 bal lot mea sure that would have restricted high-rise development in the city.” 

“I don’t think you should allow a bunch of zealots to commandeer the development process here,” Kennedy said. 

Bob Allen, the ZAB member who urged the group to consider the rooftop space and parking changes, said he hadn’t intended them for downtown as much as for properties along Shattuck and University avenues that abut residentially zoned neighborhoods behind. 

ZAB member Dean Metzger cited the impacts of a five-story project on Unive rsity Avenue built all the way to the rear lot-line and without adequate parking on a homeowner behind, “defeating everything he bought it for.” 

“I’m not trying to limit, but I want to make sense of what is happening to neighbors,” he said. 

To aid in th e analysis, Metzger has created a spreadsheet program that takes requirements for different zoning areas and provides calculation on required setbacks, building size and other factors. 

Also on hand for Wednesday’s session were Planning Commissi oners Helen Burke, David Stoloff and Gene Poschman, who belong to agency’s parallel committee created to address implications of the density bonus from their side of the table. 

The City Council moved last month to create a joint committee drawing from bo th bodies. A vote to add a member from the Housing Advisory Commission is scheduled for September. The first meeting of the new panel has been tentatively slated for Aug. 18. 

“We’ve talked at the last two or three meetings about what we can do in the short term, b ut the longer-term issues may need to be addressed at the joint meeting,” said Allen. 

“But we also have to find a short-term way to help ZAB cope” with the bonus, said Blake. 

Judd suggested the ZAB panel hold a closed-door session to address some of the key issues, a notion quickly shot down by Sanderson. 

“I guess we can’t, since there’s no pending suit,” Judd conceded. 

The next session will consider changes that can be made at the administrative level without changing the existing city code, “but we need to look at the ordinance carefully, since most of it was written under the old version of the state density bonus law” that took effect this year, he said. ›?›