High-Density Plan Back on Downtown Committee Agenda

By Richard Brenneman
Tuesday May 29, 2007

Though Berkeley planning commissioners last week rejected a proposal to designate the city center a state Priority Development Area as a first step to winning bond funds, the topic is back on the table at the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee (DAPAC). 

City Planning and Development Director Dan Marks is scheduled to make a presentation on “potential state funding which requires immediate action to designate downtown as a Priority Development Area.” 

That move, urged by the Association of Bay Area Governments, is a necessary first step if the city is to share in the still undetermined allocation of revenues from bonds passed by California voters last December. 

At the Planning Commission meeting, Marks said a designation on short notice—the deadline for applications is June 29—would likely trigger a backlash. The proposal failed on a 4-3-1 vote, with 5 votes needed for passage. 

At this point, state legislators have yet to determine how or when the bond funds will be awarded, though the bond measure spelled out the priorities of high-density housing near mass transit systems, with an emphasis on providing residences for those with low incomes. 

Marks had told the planners that backlash was likely, given the city’s last effort to attract state funds for a high-density development at the site of the Ashby BART station. 

That proposal triggered community meetings attended by hundreds and angry confrontations between residents and the project’s leading backers, Mayor Tom Bates and City Councilmember Max Anderson. 

The proposal was subsequently tabled, though it remains alive. 

Other items scheduled for Wednesday night’s meeting, DAPAC’s 36th, include: 

• A presentation by Carpenter & Co. Vice President Peter Diana on the status of the high-rise hotel, condo and conference center his company will be building at the corner of Shattuck Avenue and Center Street; 

• A presentation on the effects of economics on building heights by architect and building code expert Ned Fenny; and 

• The committee’s first discussion of possible land use policies to be included in the new plan. 

The meeting begins at 7 p.m. in the North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst Ave. at Martin Luther King Jr. Way. 


Historic element 

Meanwhile, a joint subcommittee hammering out details of the role historic buildings will play in the new downtown plan decided last week that they need one more meeting to finish their work. 

Representatives of the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) and DAPAC are hammering out a draft document for consideration of the full DAPAC panel. 

Last Wednesday’s meeting ended with near agreement, but members opted for a final meeting June 13 to iron out their remaining differences. 

Then, on June 20, the full memberships of both bodies are scheduled to meet, with a final DAPAC vote on the plan’s proposed Historic Preservation and Urban Design section expected by meeting’s end.