City to Allow Auto Sales in West Berkeley, Exempts Transfer Station

By Judith Scherr
Friday December 14, 2007

In a couple of years, the automobile shopper may not have to slog through Berkeley streets to find a new car. There’s likely to be a Volvo/Nissan dealer just a hop off the freeway—and perhaps a Honda dealer will follow. 

The ability to locate near Interstate 80 is something car dealers have been asking the city for, saying they’re pressured by their companies to increase visibility and heighten their competitive advantage. Three of the city’s four new-car dealers are now located on Shattuck Avenue, 5-10 minutes east of the freeway. 

For car dealers to move closer to the freeway and into the city’s manufacturing zone—from the Albany border south to Virginia Street and the Eastshore Highway east for two to three blocks—the City Council must modify zoning, amending the General Plan, the West Berkeley Plan and the Zoning Ordinance. 

A unanimous council (with Councilmember Laurie Capitelli absent) voted Tuesday in favor of the zoning changes but, at the urging of recyclers, removed the city’s nine-acre solid waste transfer station at Gilman and Second streets from the area subject to zoning changes.  

The council approved the new zoning in concept and will vote to make the zoning changes law at its meeting next week. 

Addressing the council before its vote on zonimg changes, recyclers said they feared the proposed zoning would allow the city to turn over all or part of the transfer station to auto sales, which would interfere with the city’s stated goal of eventually recycling or reusing everything brought to the transfer station.  

Early in the deliberative process, which took place at some 10 meetings of the Planning Commission, the planning department staff proposed rezoning for auto sales to include parts of the city now zoned as a multiple-use light industry (MULI) district, where Urban Ore, Ashby Lumber and MacBeath Hardwood are located in southwest Berkeley. The Planning Commission, however, voted to remove this part of town from the proposed rezoning. 

The primary concern expressed by councilmembers and speakers about allowing auto sales in the manufacturing district was the inclusion of the city’s nine-acre solid waste transfer center in the rezoning. 

Berkeley’s transfer station is unique, Dan Knapp, owner of Urban Ore, which resells recycled goods, told the council, calling for the lawmakers to remove the transfer station from the proposed zoning changes. 

The transfer station “houses a collection of enterprises that have gotten 59 percent diversion [of recyclable goods]” without burning or burying as some other facilities do, he said. 

“Protect those lands for future zero- waste businesses,” said Mary Lou Van Deventer, also of Urban Ore, speaking to the council on behalf of the Northern California Recycling Association. 

Knapp also raised the specter of possible rent hikes for property near where auto sales might be allowed, but Acting Land Use Planning Manager Debra Sanderson later told the council: “There’s not an expectation that [the zoning changes] would drive land prices up.”  

Shane Lavery, son of the owner of McKevitt Volvo/Nissan, now renting its property on Shattuck Avenue near Ward Street in South Berkeley, made the case for the new zoning. 

Requirements of manufacturers are changing, he told the council. “We need better access to the highways and we need to be in a part of the city where our customers can see us. Highway visibility is very important,” he said, adding, “We provide good jobs to the community; we are a union shop.” 

He also said that the owner of the property where McKevitt is located may want the land for condominium development.  

Van Deventer played down the need for the rezoning, telling council: “This entire rezoning is to keep two businesses in town.”  

The city staff report, however, pointed out that Berkeley’s four auto dealerships provide $1.2 million in sales tax revenue, just under 10 percent of the city’s total sales tax income.