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New: Critics challenge accuracy of downtown model presented to ZAB and LPC by Mark Rhoades

Becky O'Malley
Monday March 23, 2015 - 11:38:00 AM

Last Thursday evening, March 19, at the Design Review Committee of the Berkeley Zoning Adjustment Board (DRC), Mark Rhoades, consultant on the 2211 Harold Way project being proposed for downtown Berkeley by Los Angeles real estate financier Joseph Penner’s Hill Street Realty, brought in a three-dimensional model of downtown Berkeley which included the proposed building. Project critics have charged that this model is not an accurate representation of the height of existing downtown buildings as compared to the one which is proposed.  

The model showed the existing Wells Fargo Building at 2140 Shattuck Avenue as being approximately the same height as the proposed 2211 Harold Way building. Public comment by project critic Kelly Hammargren pointed out that the model Rhoades has been exhibiting is out of scale. The proposed 18 story Harold Way building’s total height would be 194 ft, while the 12 story Wells Fargo building’s main roof is at 148 ft., with a total height of 162 ft including mechanical structures on the roof. 

The identity of the other tall building which appeared in Rhoades’ model was not discussed at the DRC. If it was intended to be 2150 Shattuck Avenue, that building is just 158.5 ft at the main roof, with an estimated total height of 164 ft. 

Rhoades told the DRC on Thursday that both buildings in his model were 180 feet, instead of their actual heights which are closer to 160 feet . The at-least 30 foot difference between existing tall downtown buildings and 2211 Harold Way's 194' is significant, critics said, and should be accurately presented to the ZAB before they decide on the requested variances. 

Attendees at the DRC meeting asked to have story poles or balloons added to the existing structure on the site to show the height of the proposed structure so that the visual impact of this building on historical and city views could be assessed. 

According to Berkeley’s Downtown Area Plan, city and historical views including views from and of U.C. Berkeley’s Campanile bell tower are supposed to be protected. The Berkeley Landmark Preservation Commission will consider formally designating the view corridor from the Campanile out through the Golden Gate at its April 2 meeting as a City of Berkeley Landmark. Charlene Woodcock, who attended the Berkeley Landmark Preservation Commission meeting on the previous Thursday, reported that the model exhibited there showed the proposed 2211 Harold Way at the same height as Walter Ratcliff Wells Fargo building and the Great Western Building across the street.  

In a letter sent to Berkeley Planning Department staff after the ZAB meeting, Kelly Hammargren questioned what assurance the public would have that the story poles or balloons would be at the actual height and in the correct place. She expressed concern that the height impact of the proposed structure would not be properly represented, since it took public comment to call out the error in the model at DRC.