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Hotel on a Hill: 60 Rooms, Suites For Lab’s ‘Guest House’ Plans

By Richard Brenneman
Friday May 18, 2007

A Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) plan to build a 25,000-square-foot, 60-bedroom, four-story guest house at the lab poses no significant negative environmental impacts, lab officials contend. 

Berkeley city Planning Direc-tor Dan Marks says he’s inclined to agree, especially when the relatively small lodging facility is compared with the lab’s plans for major construction projects outlined in their draft Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) covering the years through 2025. 

And the president of the Downtown Berkeley Association (DBA), which has argued consistently for the university to develop a more symbiotic relationship with downtown businesses—including restaurants and hotels— says the organization has no objections to the plan. 

The lab’s LRDP for the years through 2025 calls for 980,000 square feet of new construction, an additional 1,000 new employees and 375 to 500 new parking spaces, but the plan’s new guest quarters isn’t among them. 

LBNL officials have included the project under the previously approved development levels included in their last LRDP, completed in 1987. 

Details of the guest house project are outlined in a draft Negative Declaration filed on the lab’s website, and the lab is taking comments through the end of the month for consideration in the document’s final draft. 

According to draft, “The Guest House would address a lack of convenient, affordable, and short-term accommodations on the LBNL campus for faculty, postdoctoral associations, students, and other visitors to affiliated UC Berkeley science facilities.” 

The building “would support the research mission of the University of California by providing convenient and affordable aaccommodations in close proximity to scientific, engineering and technological research facilities on the LBNL campus.” 

The declaration estimates that half of the occupants would be spending their time at the lab’s Advanced Light Source, the massive accelerator scientists use to create ultra-fine x-rays and super-bright ultraviolet rays. 

“The thinking is that scientists need to be near the experiments,” Marks said. 

The three-story structure would house 44 “standard” bedrooms, 12 larger rooms and four “studio suites.” 

And while the structure’s overall height is listed as four stories, plans reveal that most of the structure is only three floors, with a small raised section in the middle of the building. 

At peak occupancy, the building would house 73 residents, served by a permanent staff of eight. No dining facilities are indicated in the statement, which notes that the building is located across a roadway from the lab’s cafeteria building. 

Plans for the facility also include an office, a laundry and a fitness center. 

Construction would require the elimination of one existing structure, a trailer that now occupies the site, according to the documents prepared in compliance with state and federal environmental laws. 

“It’s not a bad design,” said Marks, “and the impacts are relatively small. There won’t be much traffic, and there might be even less than there is now, since the scientists won’t need to commute from lodgings that are more distant from the lab.” 

Although the lab is currently preparing a new LRDP, it has incorporated the new facility under its previous LRDP, issued in 1987. 

Marks, who is challenging the lab’s proposed new LRDP, said he doesn’t have any problems with including the guest house under the old document. 

“They are considerably under the amount of square footage and the number of employees that were approved in the existing LRDP,” Marks said. “There is plenty of room in it for this kind of use. We are much more concerned about some of the projects in the new LRDP.” 

Mark McLeod, president of the DBA, which represents downtown businesses, said that while he continues to believe the relationship between town and gown should be symbiotic, “I do not think that this particular project violates that wish for [a] symbiotic relationship. Rather, it sounds like LBNL is providing accommodations which offer very little, if any, competition to city-based hotels,” while providing a needed service for the lab’s research goals. 

Similar guest houses are available at other labs, McLeod said.  

Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois maintains a 157-room guest house, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wa., boasts an 81-room guest house, while Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y., not only operates a 13-room guest house, but also maintains 409 other rental housing units, ranging from dormitories to detached cottages. 

Barbara Hillman, president of the Berkeley Convention & Visitors Bureau, said she agreed with McLeod that the guest house “is not intended to displace business at local hotels.” 

Hillman said she was confident visitors to the lab’s lodgings would patronize the city’s restaurants and attractions “when their schedules permit.” 

The one definitive loss to the city would be room tax revenues that would be paid if lab guests were to stay in city hotels. A call on the subject to City Manager Phil Kamlarz had not been returned by deadline Thursday. 

The full set of documents is posted on the lab’s website at