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W. Berkeley Zone Change on Commission Agenda

Tuesday December 11, 2007

Berkeley planning commissioners Wednesday will tackle the controversial issue of what the city calls a new policy of “limited flexibility” in West Berkeley zoning. 

Also on the agenda is a proposal to convert a five-unit tenancy-in-common (TIC) property at 1552-1556 Milvia St. into five condos. 

While all parts of a TIC property are owned equally by all tenants, condominium units are individually held. Commissioners had no objections when the proposal for converting the two-building property was first brought before them last month. 

The West Berkeley rezoning was far more controversial, and two rival proposals both failed when each failed to obtain the needed five votes, due to the absence of commissioner Susan Wengraf. 

The immediate trigger was a City Council request made early this year after the council upheld a Zoning Adjustments Board vote denying a four-unit project at 2817 Eighth St. 

The denial was based on the current standards for mixed use-residential zoning, a unique-to-West-Berkeley district designed to create a transition zone between the area’s industrial and manufacturing zones and the inland residential districts. 

Developer Edward Adams, with the support of neighbors, wanted to build a four-unit housing project where zoning standards call for six—which could be increased to seven with the city’s inclusionary bonus for affordable housing. 

Some commissioners wanted to stick with the current requirements, citing the city’s need for more housing for lower-income residents, while others wanted to exclude Adams from the requirements so he could build the smaller project neighbors want. 

But Adams and some commissioners also want an exemption from the housing fee required of developers who want to exclude affordable units from their projects—hence the tension and the two failed votes. 

Commission Chair James Samuels backs the staff proposal, and typically prevails on commission votes that often divide on a five-four basis. 

But Susan Wengraf, who often votes with the majority, was one of the leading backers of the West Berkeley inclusionary policy, along with Gene Poschman, who is generally found among the dissenting minority on key development issues. 

Under the guidelines now being proposed by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), Berkeley would have a quota of 2,712 new housing units by 2014, up from a goal of 1,269 for the previous seven years, 1999-2006. 

ABAG doesn’t require the units to be built, leaving that to the market. But it does insist local government allow development to occur up to the quota levels to maintain eligibility for funding allocated through the regional government agency. 

Wednesday night’s meeting begins at 7 p.m. in the North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst Ave.