Talk of “opportunity sites,” parking spaces and height limits occupied Tuesday’s meeting of a subcommittee hammering out what may become key elements of Berkeley’s plans for the downtown’s future.
Members also heard the latest news about what may become a signature building for the city center—the new Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA).
The Subcommittee on City Interests in UC Properties held the fourth in a planned series of six meetings to offer input on how the town and gown might cooperate in developing the 800,000 square feet of new office and administrative space the university plans to add off-campus in the city’s heart.
The group is drawn from members of the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee, which must present the city a new downtown plan by the end of November.
In addition to the office space, the university also needs nearly 1,000 new parking spaces, though just how many will be sited downtown remains an open question.
Most of the projects are aligned along the western edge of the campus along Fulton/Oxford Street (Fulton becomes Oxford at Allston Way).
The museum and theater building will dominate the eastern end of Center Street and will occupy much of the northern end of the block bounded by Center, Addi-son, Oxford and Shattuck.
Executive Director Kevin Consey said the plans being prepared for the museum and film archive building by renowned Japanese architect Toyo Ito call for a four-story structure reaching 82 feet in height designed in the form of what he called “a distorted grid.”
The building will be partly transparent, so that someone near the northeast corner would be able to see through the structure to the southwest. A similar avenue of transparency will follow the line of the lobby, which will open on Center Street and be flanked by a restaurant to the west and the museum shop on the east.
A key reason for the focus on Center Street, Consey said, is pedestrian traffic. “There are between 12 and 15 pedestrians on Center for every one on Addison. You might improve the ratio to 15-3 or 15-4, but where you put your retail operations is where the people area.”
A second entrance will be on Oxford, Consey said, and visitors will be directed to exit through the underground parking area, which is now planned to accommodate 100 vehicles.
Addison will offer entry to the underground parking and the museum’s loading dock as well as to the loading dock of the university-supported private hotel project at the western end of the block.
When committee members suggested that Addison might attract art galleries or a multiplex cinema, Consey said the presence of gallery-intensive San Francisco is a key reason “there aren’t any viable East Bay galleries.” Multiplexes also aren’t faring well, he said, noting the decline in the number of film screens in Berkeley in recent years.
Matt Taecker, the planner hired with university funds to prepare the planning documents, presented the committee with a series of maps depicting key development sites and possible projects.
The list begins with the Department of Health Services building, the highrise that occupies much of the extended block bounded by Berkeley Way on the south, Hearst Avenue on the North, Oxford Street on the east and Shattuck Avenue on the west.
“We need to look seriously at the height of buildings,” said subcommittee Chair Dorothy Walker, a retired UC Berkeley administrator. She also suggested that the city should give less emphasis to requiring retail spaces on the ground floors of new buildings and encouraged first floor residences instead—except for street corners, where retail would be encouraged.
UC Planner Kerry O’Banion, the university’s lead planner for downtown projects, suggested slightly elevated residential frontages mimicking those of New York City brownstones.
Members also debated whether or not to require retail frontages for whatever structure the university decides to building at the location of the Tang Center, with the evident preference being for residences along the Durant Avenue side and the greatest density concentrated along Bancroft Way.
Taecker’s conceptual sketches depicted high-rise towers rising from the mass of several of the proposed opportunity buildings, including one on each end of the structure that would replace the old health services high-rise.
Members seemed to agree that towers should be set back from a lower-rise street frontage, a concept already broached in sketches for the hotel and conference center planned at the intersection of Shattuck and Center.
Other ideas included making Hearst Avenue more attractive as a bicycle and pedestrian thoroughfare, including the addition of more street trees, a suggestion of DAPAC Chair Will Travis.
Parking will become a critical issue, said O’Banion, with the museum complex displacing 250 parking spaces while adding only 100. “So we’re still 150 down, and that will require replacing them somewhere else.”
Museum construction would mean demolition of the university’s lot at the southwest corner of Oxford and Addison streets, which has been available to the public in the evenings.
“Parking is a critical issue,” Consey added. “Freight & Salvage Co. will be expanding downtown, but parking won’t be.” The popular night spot is moving into new quarters on Addison Street a half-block south of Shattuck Avenue. Their new quarters offer no parking spaces of their own.
One possibility raised by subcommittee and Planning Commission member James Samuels was Berkeley Way, where a city lot already serves the downtown arts district.
Mass transit discussion including the possible addition of more shuttles, including runs to serve businesses in the downtown.
Jennifer MacDougall, another UC planner assigned to the subcommittee, said the city and university had prepared a joint transportation management plan published in 2000 which included the creation of joint initiatives to serve both the downtown and the south of campus area.
Lack of funds to hire the requisite employees stalled implementation, she said.
Another subcommittee which is comprised of members of DAPAC and the city’s Transportation Commission has been addressing the same themes. Travis suggested applying for Bay Area Air Quality Management District funds available for transit-oriented development planning.
The subcommittee meets again tonight (Tuesday) at 7 p.m. in the North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst Ave. at Martin Luther King Jr. Way. The full DAPAC will meet at the center Wednesday night at 7 p.m. to consider downtown housing needs and scenario for the plan’s land use elements.