Planning Commission Faces Light Agenda

By Richard Brenneman
Tuesday November 27, 2007

Berkeley Planning Commissioners will face a light agenda when they meet Wednesday night, with the only action item a decision to set a public hearing. 

The hearing to be scheduled will focus on a proposed amendment to the city’s inclusionary housing ordinance, which sets requirements for housing developers to build or fund units for low-income tenants as part of their larger projects. 

Jordan Harrison, the city planning staffer who serves as commission secretary, said the ordinance is the first in a series of proposed changes to the ordinance the commission will take up in coming months. 

The measure under consideration would exempt mixed-use projects in residential neighborhoods with four or fewer living units from any obligation to provide low-income units. 

Another proposal that will come to the commission is presently before the city’s Housing Advisory Commission, and will set fees for high-end condominium developers who want to provide payments in lieu of including affordable housing in their projects. 

The funds would go towards building affordable housing projects elsewhere. 

Commissioners will also continue their discussions aimed at formalizing new ordinances to set city standards for density bonuses awarded housing projects in commercial districts. 

State law requires an additional size bonus for developers who build affordable units as part of their projects—the subject of considerable tension in debates over projects like the “Trader Joe’s” apartments-over-commercial project planned for the northwest corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Way and University Avenue. 

Critics have charged that current city policy allows developers to build structures that overpower the residential neighborhoods behind commercial thoroughfares, while developers argue that the size increases are needed to create economically viable projects. 

The meeting begins at 7 p.m. in the North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst Ave. at Martin Luther King Jr. Way—a block from the site of the proposed Trader Joe’s project.