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Landmarks Panel Challenges LBNL Report

By Richard Brenneman
Tuesday March 06, 2007

On a 5-0-2 vote, Berkeley’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) raised a challenge to expansion plans for Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Thursday night. Commissioners Miriam Ng and Fran Packard abstained on the vote. 

The major concern of the majority was the impact of a massive construction program planned over the next 18 years in Strawberry Canyon in the Berkeley hills. 

The comments came in response to a formal request to contribute concerns about the draft environmental impact report (DEIR) filed on the lab’s Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) 2025. 

“We’re concerned that the LRDP does not recognize the impact on a potential cultural landscape,” said Lesley Emmington. 

“It’s incorrect to say the projects will have no significant impacts,” said Chair Robert Johnson, citing the conclusions of the DEIR, adding that the university should include mitigations or alternatives lacking in the document. 

Commissioners will get a second chance to comment next Wednesday when they and three other city commissions conduct a 7 p.m. public hearing in the North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst Ave. 

The EIR motion came near the end of a long session that featured a presentation from UC Berkeley on plans to turn the exterior of the old UC Printing Plant into a projection screen for displaying electronic art pending demolition of the landmark to make room for a new museum. The session also included hearings on plans for two other landmarks and efforts to designate the endangered Iceland as a city landmark. 

Members also got a sneak peak at a new development planned for downtown Berkeley, the renovation of the landmarked Fidelity Savings Building and construction of an adjacent six-story apartment-over-retail building on a narrow lot at 2323 Shattuck Ave. 

Architect Jim Novosel drafted the plans, which call for restoration of both the interior and exterior of the landmark. 

“The foundation of this project is preservation,” he said, and the developer had agreed to forego the right to add additional height to the landmark while adding the mixed -use building to the north, which features solar energy collectors on the roof of a traditionally styled exterior. 

Inclusion of units reserved for lower-income tenants would allow the addition of a sixth floor above the five normally permitted downtown, he said.  

While commissioners had qualms about some of the details of the upper two floors, the plan met with general approval and seems likely to win a final nod.  

The Iceland hearing pitted attorney Rena Rickles against advocates of the rink whose owners say is too expensive to run. 

With the rink slated to close at the end of the month, Rickles asked commissioners to wait on acting on the landmark application so the owner could negotiate a compromise that would allow for development plans that would remove the unique earth berms built to help cool a structure which retains most of its original construction details. 

Plans being formed by developer and broker John Gordon would call for alterations to the building, while preserving the Milvia Street facade and maintaining a smaller skating area while adding new uses. 

Iceland produced two world-class ice skaters in Peggy Fleming and Brian Boitano, said Tom Killelea, who hopes to keep the rink intact. The building also housed the first national skating events west of the Mississippi, he said. 

Elizabeth Grassetti, president of the University Skating Club, also argued for preservation. “We want to see it stay a skating rink for the next 100 years,” she said. 

When Mother Nature upstaged Rickles with a twitch precisely at 8:40 p.m., after a brief moment of startled silence, the first words were about numbers, the precise spot where the temblor tickled the Richter Scale, sparking a series of speculations settled minutes later when a number arrived by Steve Winkel’s PDA (a pocket-sized computer called a personal data assistant). 

Rickles, unfazed, had already picked up precisely where she’d been halted moments before, offering a small joke. The attorney urged compromise, adding, “We would very much not like to appeal.” 

Commissioner Jill Korte said any effort to limit the initiative was premature before the commission had determined which features of the building were architecturally significant, and colleague Gary Parsons, an architect, said the earth berms were “pretty radical” at the time of construction, a green idea amazing for the time. 

Emmington said supporters should explore ways to find additional funds in the same way proponents of the Richmond Plunge had helped save that landmark public swimming facility. 

Members opted to create a subcommittee consisting of Johnson, Winkle and Packard to work on a final application with proponents and Rickles. 

Members also opened a hearing on modifications to the landmarked South Pacific station at 700 University Ave. needed to let Brennan’s Irish Pub take up quarters in the Spanish-style landmark. 

The move was made necessary by plans to level the surrounding block, including the pub’s current home, to make way for high-density housing over a retail complex. Barring a sudden reversal, approval seems likely at next month’s LPC meeting