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UC to Present Agenda for City’s New Downtown Plan

By Richard Brenneman
Friday August 31, 2007

The battle lines over just how much and how high new development should rise in downtown Berkeley are growing, with UC Berkeley weighing in on the side of greater density. 

Assistant Vice Chancellor Emily Marthinsen will make the university’s case Tuesday night when she addresses the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee (DAPAC). 

Marthinsen, who works on capital projects and planning for the school, expressed her concerns in a four-page letter to Dan Marks, the city’s director of planning and development. 

With up to 800,000 square feet of development planned off-campus in the city center, the university is the biggest player in the downtown development sweepstakes, and Marthinsen’s letter makes clear the university wants a taller downtown than some DAPAC members might like. 

According to the legal settlement that resulted in the creation of a new plan, UC holds an equal say with the city over the plan, and the planning effort is staffed by two planners—one working for the city and the other for the university—with the university giving the city $250,000 for the planning process. 

If the city doesn’t adopt a plan to the university’s liking by the end of May 2009, the university will start cutting off $15,000 a month from compensatory funds it is paying the city to make up for the financial impacts of its development on the community. 

Both the city and the university agreed to use an outside mediator in the event of a dispute—and the university “reserves the right to determine if the DAP or EIR meets the Regents’ needs.” 

The EIR is the environmental review that must be completed and approved with the adoption of a new plan. 

The planning process is spelled out in the May 25, 2005, settlement of a lawsuit filed by the city over the impacts of the university’s Long Range Development Plan 2020—a document that doesn’t include the stadium area, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory or the university’s Richmond Field Station. 

Tuesday night’s meeting is DAPAC’s 40th session since first convening on Nov. 21, 2005. 

University’s wants 

Marthinsen’s letter to Marks spells out the university’s vision of the downtown more clearly than anything yet placed before the committee. 

“Based on both urban design and economic factors, we propose the DAP include height and density limits on the downtown blocks adjacent to campus with at least these values: 

• Maximum height of 90 feet, not counting a structure of house mechanical gear on the roof. 

• An average building height of 75 feet for the area between Hearst Avenue and Berkeley Way and between Allston Way and Durant Avenue. 

• A maximum floor-to-area-above-the-ground-floor of six-to-one between Berkeley and Allston ways and a four-to-one ratio between Berkeley and Allston ways to Durant Avenue.” 

In addition, the university wants the city to consider even greater heights and densities on “certain parcels” in the downtown core to encourage “projects with extraordinary public benefits such as the proposed downtown hotel.” 

Marthinsen had no problem with the notion of limiting the street facades of buildings to 50 feet, with higher development stepped back from the frontages. 

But the university “opposes height and density criteria based on an unreasonably low ‘base’ limit, which may be only increased through ‘bonus’ provisions designed to promote specific policy goals”—a position certain to spark resistance from many DAPAC members. 

In addition to bonuses already in existence for building lower-rent apartments and condos into new buildings, DAPAC members have also proposed bonuses for green building practices designed to reduce energy emissions and consumption, both in construction materials and during the life of a structure. 

Marthinsen wrote that the university also wants more Class A office space downtown “[t]o capture for the city the potential of entrepreneurial ventures generated by university research and professional programs” as well as to support downtown daytime vitality. 

The university also “intends to explore an above-grade [parking] structure” on the site now occupied by University Hall Annex, she wrote.  


Long session 

Tuesday night’s session will be unusually long for the committee, starting at 6:30 with a presentation by landscape architect Walter Hood of his concepts for a plaza on Center Street between Oxford Street and Shattuck Avenue. 

A UC Berkeley professor and former chair of university’s Landscape Architecture Department, Hood also heads his own design firm. His proposal, described by Marks as an “advocacy plan,” is being funded by grants from the Mazer Foundation and several local donors. 

The notion of a block-long pedestrian plaza, perhaps incorporating a daylighted Strawberry Creek, was first broached by the city committee appointed to  

offer suggestions for the hotel the university plans at the northeast corner of the intersection of Center and Shattuck Avenue. 

After public comments, Marthinsen will make her pitch, followed by a committee review of the plans draft Land Use Policies and Alternatives chapter. 

The meeting is being held in the North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst Ave. at Martin Luther King Jr. Way.