North Shattuck Plaza Plans Encounter a Few Skeptics

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday October 31, 2006

Questions, comments and rebuttals greeted committee members from the North Shattuck Association and North Shattuck Plaza (NPS), Inc., at the community meeting held Thursday to discuss the North Shattuck plaza draft plan. 

The proposed $3.5 million dollar plaza would transform Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto to streetscape by closing off Shattuck Avenue between Vine and Rose streets. The current angle parking and access lane along the eastern side of the avenue would be replaced with a 50-foot-wide pedestrian walkway with landscaped plantings, two rows of trees and benches. 

As NSP Inc. Chair David Stoloff, who also serves on the city planning commission, showed off the plans to residents, the tree-lined walkway plan produced comparisons among some to similar landscaping in Paris.  

Stoloff described the project as a “rare opportunity to transform a public space filled with traffic into a ‘living room’ for Berkeleyans.” 

“We want to give the space back to the pedestrians,” he said. “A place to see and to be seen.” 

Not everyone from the community was impressed with the plans. There were concerns from neighbors about why no community input had been taken when deciding about issues of parking, the selection of trees and access for the elderly and the disabled. 

Some elderly residents said that taking away street parking from the front of the stores would stop them from coming there to shop. 

Heather Hensley, executive director of the NSA, informed residents that the current proposal would bring about consolidated parking by reducing the five-vehicle entrance along the south side of Rose Street to three. 

Hensley also addressed neighbors’ concerns regarding traffic congestion and added that a traffic study would be conducted prior to the environmental impact report. 

Neighbors also said that moving the parking northward would not help to solve the problem of already struggling independent stores—such as Black Oak Books—because customers would have to walk some distance to get to them. 

“We will try to make the parking neutral,” said Councilmember Laurie Capitelli, under whose district the proposed plaza falls. “People will have to walk a block but we hope the amenities the plaza provides will make up for it.” 

Capitelli also said separate meetings would be held with the community to discuss the parking and the traffic issue.  

He added that the total number of trees would rise from 42 to 102 and that measures would be taken to improve the soil permeability.  

Some neighbors were concerned about the shortage of trees and others thought the proposed number of trees was “too many.” 

“Some people actually like being in the sun,” commented a neighbor, to which Hensley said that care would be taken to ensure sufficient sunlight in the plaza.  

“We are also looking at plans to include green areas in the plaza where parents could rest with their children during shopping,” she said 

“Would the new plaza be a magnet for the homeless?” was a question on one of the comment cards. 

“Will we not change our community because we are afraid that it will be a magnet for the homeless?” said Capitelli. “Not to build a civic amenity for that reason is unacceptable to me.” 

Hensley said that the project was not receiving any funding from the city.  

“The NSP Inc. is collecting funds for the project and there are also several state and federal grants for pedestrian improvement that could be looked into,” she said. 

Hensley also said that most of the North Shattuck businesses were in support of the project. 

“We are holding meetings with each store about their concern. Long’s has a concern about the loss of the driveway but studies will be done to assess how much it is actually used,” she said, adding that restaurants would benefit from the extended space outside.  

A representative from Black Oak Books said that although the store was supportive, they were concerned about the loss of parking spots in front of the store. 

Stoloff outlined the plan to place a kiosk in the plaza, adding that 100 square feet of space would be available for vendors. 

“The kiosk has a vital function,” he said. “We are hoping to attract a vendor who will help the kiosk to produce income that will support the plaza’s upkeep. The kiosk will also keep an eye out on plaza safety issues.” 

Stoloff said that the final plaza plans would go to the City Council for approval and that it would take six to nine months for the plaza to be completed.  

“We want Berkeleyans to know that everyone is going to be involved in the process,” said Capitelli. “We welcome input on what people would like to have because we are all responsible for its success.”