Council Upholds Iceland as Landmark

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday July 17, 2007

The Berkeley City Council upheld a commission vote Tuesday evening to landmark a 1939 ice skating rink, an act supporters of the nonprofit corporation Save Berkeley Iceland hope will facilitate the group’s purchase of the site and pave the way to reopening the facility for ice skating. 

The 5-4 decision (with Councilmembers Gordon Wozniak, Dona Spring, Kriss Worthington, Betty Olds and Linda Maio voting to uphold the landmark designation) came at a special 6 p.m. meeting, one week after an extensive debate at a public hearing that focused more on whether the site should be redeveloped for housing and child care, or if the use should return to ice skating.  

As councilmembers reiterated Tuesday evening, the decision they were making had to focus narrowly on the historic value of the structure to be landmarked.  

Voting to uphold the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s designation means an eventual developer will either have to preserve the exterior walls of the site, as well as the packed earth berms on the north and the south sides of the structure, or go through an extensive environmental review process to make changes.  

Developer Ali Kashani, president of Memar Properties, Inc. of Oakland, has an option to purchase the site where he has said he wants to build housing and a child care center. California State law allows developers to build higher than local zoning laws permit when they include child care in the project. 

Kashani told the Daily Planet after the council decision—which he opposed—that he may still want to purchase the property. “It depends on the price,” he said. 

Speaking for Save Berkeley Iceland, Caroline Winnett told the Planet after the meeting, that while, “the owners have the right to sell to whom they want, the assumption is that a developer will not find the [landmarked site] economically attractive.” 

Now that the site is landmarked, Winnett said Save Berkeley Iceland is anticipating two significant donations. The nonprofit group is trying to raise $2 million to purchase the site, although it legally cannot negotiate with the owners, East Bay Iceland, while Kashani is exercising his options.