Members of the Berkeley Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) Monday tackled everything from a nuclear accelerator building to UC Berkeley expansion plans.
First up came comments on the university’s plans for a major expansion project at and around Memorial Stadium.
Stadium area projects
Berkeley Planning Director Dan Marks had little good to say to the commission about the university’s environmental review of development plans in the stadium area.
“It’s extraordinarily weak for an environmental document,” said Marks of the university’s Nov. 14 notice of preparation of an environmental impact report (EIR). “There are no detailed project descriptions, only very broad descriptions.”
Among other flaws, Marks said that while it appears that the stadium will add significant height above the existing rim, no details are presented, historical preservation elements are weak, and the data presented is “pretty slim.”
LPC Commissioner Robert Johnson said he was concerned that while the proposal adds hundreds of new parking spaces, no consideration was given to encourage the use of public transportation.
“It’s stupid to have a parking lot,” said Commissioner Carrie Olson. “You want to encourage students to take public transit. It’s also on top of an earthquake fault.”
“It could be a very expensive parking lot for that reason,” quipped Marks.
The site, which encompasses a major new building to house joint programs of the university’s law and business schools, includes two landmarks slated for destruction—the Cheney Houses on College Avenue—of which one is especially notable, said Commissioner Leslie Emmington.
While settlement of the city’s suit against the university’s Long Range Development Plan precluded a strong city role in most campus development, Marks noted that Memorial Stadium was specifically excluded, giving the city a stronger say.
Referring to the vague descriptions in the UC Berkeley document, Commission Steven Winkel said “the level of detail is not adequate for preparation of a project EIR.”
On a unanimous vote, the commission decided to ask the university to review all plans for the project at the time of conceptual design, when changes can still be made, rather that at the level of schematic plans, which are much less likely to result in any significant change.
A scoping session for preparation of the environmental document was held by the university Thursday evening after the Daily Planet’s deadline.
The commission conducted an initial hearing on LA Wood’s proposal to landmark the Bevatron Building at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL).
Lab officials—including Ben Feinberg, the last head of Bevatron operations— and a graduate student argued against declaring the building a landmark, saying that the best monument to the history of the site would be construction of new labs equipped with the latest hardware to conduct more ground-breaking research.
Completed in 1953, the Bevatron was in operation until Feb. 21, 1993, by which time larger and more powerful particle accelerators had become the source of most new discoveries.
Wood and other landmarking proponents argued from both the public health and historical perspectives, and Wood called the conical-roofed structure a world landmark.
Gene Bernardi expressed concern that if the building were demolished then trucks carrying contaminated waste would pose threats to health and traffic as they drove toward Interstate 80, both along the Hearst Avenue-Oxford Way-University Avenue corridor and along Ashby Avenue.
Chair Jill Korte suggested and commissioners approved continuing the hearing until January to allow time for commissioners to visit the site.
Developer Dan Diebel of Urban Housing Group (UHG) presented the latest version of his firm’s plans for developing a square block of housing over ground floor commercial spaces in the block of 700 University Ave. that now houses the old Santa Fe Railroad station, Brennan’s Irish Pub and Celia’s Mexican restaurant.
Of the three existing structures, only the station—a city landmark—would be spared, though the interior would be remodeled to provide a new home for Brennan’s, a long-time Berkeley institution.
UHG has hired Emeryville architect Sady S. Hayashida to design the station remodel, the same architect who created the plans for converting the landmark Howard Automotive Building at 2140 Durant Ave. into a Buddhist seminary and study facility.
Diebel said his firm would present a Draft Environmental Impact Report on the project soon after the start of the new year.
The main development, designed by architect David Johnson of Christiani Johnson, would consist of two buildings, one on the northern half of the block and the other on the southern half, separated by an internal roadway that would feature street-level shops.
Each building would be designed around a central courtyard, and the dwellings on the four-floor southern building would feature stoops, much like New York brownstones.
While commissioners began with generally favorable comments, the five-story northern building came in for some criticism—especially because many commissioners found that it overwhelmed the one-story train station.
Sara Satterlee, who lives in the nearby landmark Sisterna Tract Historic District, said that while she appreciated the developer heeding neighborhood comments raised in a series of community meetings, “it’s unfortunate to have a development of this size in West Berkeley.”
While it appeared initially that the commission would approve a proposal to replace the corrugated metal rear facade of the H.J. Heinz Building on San Pablo Avenue with stucco, a suggestion by Commissioner Winkel to replace the existing metal with new, thicker metal quickly gained the upper hand.
The building’s owner and architect were given a month to come up with new options.
Commissioners also grilled Calvin Fong, aide to Mayor Tom Bates, over the mayor’s proposed changes to the Landmarks Preservation Ordinance.
The City Council has been presented with two competing version of a revised ordinance, one from landmarks and the other from the Planning Commission.
Mayor Bates unveiled his own draft recently, which has raised strong concerns among some commissioners.
By the end of the session, the commission asked to make a formal presentation at an upcoming City Council workshop on the ordinance. Chair Jill Korte and members Carrie Olson and Leslie Emmington will develop the presentation.