Housing Commission Eyes City Bonus Laws

By Richard Brenneman
Tuesday February 05, 2008

Berkeley’s Housing Advisory Commission (HAC) meets Thursday night to weigh in on three critical housing issues now before the Planning Commission. 

At issue are proposed density bonus and inclusionary housing ordinances which govern low-income housing and the city’s condominium conversion ordinance. 

The inclusionary and density bonus ordinances deal with requirements for low-income housing in new multi-unit projects and the additional size granted to developers in return for building new low-income housing. 

The condo conversion ordinance spells out requirements for transforming former rental housing into ownership units. 

Former HAC chair Jesse Arreguin said members are taking up the density bonus and inclusionary issues a year after making their recommendations. 

The controversial topics were first raised for reconsideration by the Zoning Adjustments Board, which created a subcommittee to consider the laws and policies that allow developers to exceed height and building mass regulations in exchange for providing lower-cost housing. 

At the City Council’s direction, the panel was expanded to include members from HAC and the Planning Commission. 

Planning commissioners have discussed the recommendations, but not in depth. 

Arreguin said he hopes that the Planning Commission will take up the measures soon. 

ZAB members initially raised the issue after confronting several building projects deemed out of scale with their sites. But city staff said the state density bonus law and city inclusionary policies mandated approval of the larger projects. 

The board then decided to create a subcommittee to understand the policies and how they related to their decisions in approving use permits for developments. 

The expanded building sizes are justified under city policy as a means of making developers responsible for the costs of applying below-market-rate housing. 

One factor leading to creation of the committee was the declaration by city planning staff that developers of the yet-to-be-built Berkeley Arpeggio (former Seagate Building) on Center Street would be eligible for 14 stories because of the costs of building inclusionary units in their condo project. 

The meeting begins at 7 p.m. in the North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst Ave.