West Berkeley Bowl Project Put on City’s Fast Track

By Suzanne La Barre
Friday May 05, 2006

Attempting to harness a protracted public approval process, the Planning Department has placed the West Berkeley Bowl project on the fast track.  

The project will pass through the Zoning Adjustments Board and the Planning Commission over the next few weeks, then move on to the Berkeley City Council for a possible verdict before councilmembers depart for summer recess. 

The council is expected to consider the project in its entirety June 13. 

West Berkeley Bowl would comprise 91,060-square-feet of development in two buildings at 920 Heinz Ave., including a grocery store, office and storage space, a food service building, a community room and 211 parking spaces. 

The project requires both a use permit and a new zoning category. Currently, the area is zoned for mixed use and manufacturing buildings. 

The three boards slated to examine the project can hand down decisions in various capacities. The Planning Commission looks at legislative proposals (rezoning) whereas ZAB takes project-specific action (granting permits). 

In this case, ZAB is also charged with fact-finding for the environmental impact report (EIR), a study to look at the environmental effects of the proposed development. The City Council has final say over all projects.  

The public process for West Berkeley Bowl is proceeding as follows:  

ZAB heard the project last night after press time; a full report will be available in the Berkeley Daily Planet Tuesday.  

On May 10, the Planning Commission will hold a public hearing to consider recommending general plan and zoning amendments to the City Council. ZAB meets the following night to act on a use permit and the EIR. 

On May 23, City Council will set a public hearing for June 13, to evaluate both the ZAB decision and the Planning Commission’s recommendations. 

The use permit that ZAB grants--if it grants one at all--would only go into effect if the City Council approves the general plan and zoning amendments. 

Typically, the City Council makes a determination on legislative changes before ZAB grants a use permit. In this case, however, the planning department wants to speed up the process. 

“We’re working on a constrained time line and we’ve had some unexpected delays,” said Planner Aaron Sage. 

Developer Glen Yasuda, who operates the original Berkeley Bowl on Oregon Street, first proposed the project in October 2004, but because of a late EIR request and a series of flubs—including an erroneous traffic report—progress has stalled. 

Since 2004, the proposed project has gone before the Planning Commission 12 times. ZAB heard the project three times and the Design Review Committee considered it once.  

ZAB Chair David Blake fears the current attempt to expedite the project could result in hasty decisions.  

“I hope to avoid any rush to judgment because of our unfortunate screw-ups,” he said.