Planners, ZAB Rush to Approve Projects Before Recess

By Suzanne La Barre
Tuesday May 09, 2006

West Berkeley Bowl, Creeks at Planning Commission 


The Planning Commission is expected to make strides on two hot-button issues Wednesday: the Creeks Ordinance and the proposed West Berkeley Bowl project. 

Commissioners will hold a public hearing on adjustments to zoning and city plans that would allow for the development of the 91,060-square-foot supermarket at 920 Heinz Ave. in West Berkeley. The Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) will consider the same project the following night, but in a different capacity. (See related story.) 

West Berkeley Bowl would require modifications to the city’s General Plan, the West Berkeley Plan and zoning maps to accommodate commercial occupancy at a 1.9-acre portion of the site. Additionally, zoning allowances would have to occur for the site to include an accessible food storage facility. The area is currently zoned for mixed use/light industrial buildings. 

Some community members have voiced opposition to changing the zoning, insisting it violates guidelines laid out in the West Berkeley Plan and the General Plan and will set a precedent for commercial development in West Berkeley.  

“Really, this is not a stand-alone project,” said John Curl at a ZAB meeting Thursday. Curl has operated a woodworking business in the area since 1973. “It’s an anchor. The proposal is to . . . make West Berkeley a commercial area.” 

Though the West Berkeley Plan points up residents’ desire for a food store—the area is currently without one—the city’s General Plan stipulates that decision-makers must protect industrial uses in West Berkeley. The two major incentives for maintaining mixed use/light industrial land are to protect jobs and space for manufacturers, according to the city’s municipal code. 

In a report to the Planning Commission, staff argues that the proposed project represents only about 0.8 percent of the total mixed use/light industrial space available in Berkeley and will usher in about 100 new jobs—albeit retail positions. Staff further insists the rezoning and General Plan amendments will not affect other manufacturing and industrial facilities because “approval of any single General Plan or zoning amendment does not imply any further changes will occur.” 

Additional features of the General Plan and West Berkeley Plan that planning commissioners must consider include customer access and convenience, pedestrian-friendly design, bicycle accessibility and support of regional retail. 

Staff is recommending that the Planning Commission adopt the aforementioned legislative amendments, in addition to a statement of overriding considerations—not yet released at press time—that details project benefits. 

If commissioners fail to render a decision Wednesday, the West Berkeley Bowl proposal will not go before the City Council by summer recess, staff says. City Council has final say over the project. 

The commission will also consider suggested changes to the Creeks Ordinance, the long-debated legislation that limits development on and near Berkeley’s open and culverted waterways. The ordinance has pitted homeowners who want the unqualified right to expand and rebuild their homes, against environmentalists who want to protect Berkeley’s creeks from harmful development. 

Commissioners are building on suggestions put forth by the Creeks Task Force, an ad hoc group that formed more than a year ago to help revise the ordinance. 

“My guess is there may be a consensus on the Planning Commission to basically support the task force recommendations, but I think commissioners do have questions,” said Commission Chair Helen Burke.  

Matters that remain unresolved, according to Commissioner Gene Poschman, include homeowners’ right to rebuild into a setback following a disaster, the definition of an open creek, how to handle culverted creeks and how to administer the ordinance. 

On Wednesday, commissioners are scheduled to make final comments on the ordinance. Recommendations are expected to go to the City Council before summer recess..