Downtown Building Heights Set for Commission Action

By Richard Brenneman By Richard Brenneman
Monday January 12, 2009 - 05:28:00 PM

The most-contested chapter of the city’s emerging new Downtown Area Plan comes before planning commissioners Wednesday night. 

The struggle over building heights and bulk provoked the most controversy during deliberations of city planners who drafted the first edition of the document now undergoing revision by the commission. 

Both the commission’s draft and the original prepared by the Downtown Area Planning Advisory Committee will go to the City Council in five months. The city’s elected governing body must adopt a plan by May 26 or face cuts in university mitigation funds. 

The deadline was imposed in the settlement signed by the city and UC Berkeley that ended the city lawsuit challenging the university’s building plans through 2020. 

Those plans call for a major university move into the city center, with 800,000 square feet of new downtown construction serving the university’s needs projected by the end of the 21st Century’s second decade. 

City staff is urging the commission to schedule extra meetings to finish their revision in time to hold a March 18 public hearing on their final draft, and complete their work so that both the plan’s final environmental impact review (EIR) and the revised plan are ready for the council to begin its work on the plan as early as April 21. 

The plan’s draft EIR is scheduled for release on Feb. 20, and commissioners will hold a Feb. 18 hearing on the draft to gather comments for consideration in the final version, which is scheduled for release April 8. 

The Wednesday meeting begins at 7 p.m. in the North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst Ave. at Martin Luther King Jr. Way. 

The plan appears as four different action items on the agenda, starting with the schedule for upcoming meetings, a decision on maximum building heights, the base project size that, with additional bonuses, would meet the maximums heights and masses allowed as well as the language of the chapter itself. 

The agenda and related documents may be found at: www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/ContentDisplay.aspx?id=33076