Berkeley residents have until Aug. 10 to express their concerns about the environmental review of zoning ordinance and General Plan amendments to open up West Berkeley to car dealerships.
The proposal, strongly backed by Mayor Tom Bates, is designed to keep car sellers in the city, along with the sales taxes they generate.
While the EIR comment period closes in August, the city’s Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the proposals next week, during their July 25 meeting.
The proposal calls for opening up all of the land now zoned for manufacturing (M) to car dealerships, along with a narrow parcel south of Ashby Avenue currently zoned for mixed-use light industrial (MULI) uses.
Currently, dealerships are confined to geographically restricted parcels in the C-1, C-2 and C-W commercial zones.
Most of the dealer sites are located in the core downtown area and along southern Tele-graph Avenue, while three of the city’s four existing dealerships are located in isolated parcels along southern Shattuck Avenue (Toyota of Berkeley, Berkeley Honda and McKevitt Volvo Nissan) and only one is currently sited in West Berkeley (Weather-ford BMW on Ashby).
All three Shattuck Avenue sites are nonconforming uses which do not meet current zoning regulations for their sites and could not be located there today.
During Planning Commission meetings last year, dealers said car manufacturers want their dealerships concentrated along freeways to provide the easiest access, leading to an exodus of car sales locations from city centers.
Car sales provided 11.5 percent of the city’s sales tax revenues in the second quarter of 2005, the latest figures in a staff report by Jordan Harrison, the associate planner assigned to the commission.
The proposed zoning changes would allow dealers to locate in a much larger area than currently allowed in West Berkeley—sites primarily clustered along Univer-sity Avenue west of San Pablo Avenue and along Fourth Street near its intersection with University.
A small number of additional sites are located near Weatherford BMW along Ashby.
A number of smaller sites are scattered along San Pablo Avenue and a few are clustered along a narrow stretch of Dwight Way west of San Pablo.
The last remaining dealer on San Pablo, McNevin Volkswagen, abandoned the city at the end of 2005.
Berkeley’s remaining car dealers have been supportive of the project.
The new regulations would create two classes of dealerships in each of the new zones, major outlet and small so-called “boutique dealerships.”
In the M zone bloc, classes are demarcated by parcels above and below 40,000 square feet, with the former requiring a Use Permit (UP) issued by a vote of the Zoning Adjustments Board and the smaller parcels requiring only an over-the-counter Administrative Use Permit (AUP).
In the south-of-Ashby section, 30,000 square feet would serve as the dividing line between the two permit categories.
The documents now under review are required under the California Environmental Quality Act, and examine the potential consequences of developments and laws and regulations that pave the way for expanded development.
According to Harrison’s 36-page draft Environmental Impact Study (EIS), proposed mitigations would eliminate any significant adverse impacts stemming from the proposals.
Rick Auerbach, a West Berkeley resident and an activist with WEBAIC (West Berkeley Artisans & Industrial Companies), said his group has been generally supportive of the proposal, “but significant questions remain.”
WEBAIC has advocated for preservation of the city’s dwindling supply of industrial sites, and members challenged the development of the new Berkeley Bowl now under construction in West Berkeley.
One of WEBAIC’s main concerns has been the increasing volume of traffic on major thoroughfares in the area, including the intersection of San Pablo and Ashby avenues and the eastern end of the proposed MULI dealership zone.
Auerbach said he wants to see confirmation that traffic projections include the impacts of the new supermarket and other developments now in the planning stages. Harrison said she would check to make sure they did.
Potential adverse impacts to air quality would be reduced to insignificance by measures that include:
• Water spraying to reduce dust;
• Covering or reducing the levels of truckloads of soil and other loose materials;
• Daily sweeping of access roads and nearby streets and parking areas, seeding or stabilizing nearby soil;
• Covering, binding or watering earth and sand stockpiles; and
• Limiting traffic speeds on unpaved roads and installing erosion control measures to prevent silt runoff onto roads.
Other measures call for:
• Preventing exposure to lead paints and asbestos during demolition of old buildings;
• Examining sites for historic or prehistoric relics and remains and fossils;
• Examination of sites for earthquake and soil liquefaction hazards;
• Mandating traffic impact analyses for new dealerships and following their recommendations;
• Fair-share payments from new M zone dealers for the cost of installing a signal and Fourth and Gilman streets, and
• Limiting the size of dealerships near the Gilman/I-80 interchange to 4.5 acres or less unless evidence of no adverse impacts are shown.
The documents are all available online at www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/planning/