One of the first projects to be built under Berkeley’s recently adopted Downtown Area Plan will be Acheson Commons which will transform the entire city block bordered by University Avenue, Shattuck and Walnut streets, and Berkeley Way.
The project, which has been under discussion for some time, was the subject of a rare joint meeting of the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the Design Review Committee on March 29.
The proposal for the area sees the creation of 205 new residential units and above-ground floor retail space. The developer is Equity Residential, of Chicago which builds and owns rental housing projects nationwide. EQR previously purchased the Bachenheimer Building at 2119 University Avenue from local developer Patrick Kennedy, and subsequently bought the adjacent properties.
The historic Acheson Building, currently used as offices, will be adapted for residential occupancy and its exterior will be restored. The landmarked exterior of the ACE Hardware building will be incorporated into a new six-story building. The two brown shingle duplexes on Walnut Street will, it is hoped, be relocated to a new site. Habitat for Humanity is exploring the possibility of receiving these structures.
The all-new Walnut Building will occupy the northeast corner of the site — parking for the project will be located in the Walnut building entered from Berkeley Way — and there will be live/work units on the ground floor.
To the west of the existing Bachenheimer Building, a new MacFarlane Building will incorporate the existing landmarked façades.
Acheson Commons is a very large project by local standards. The City’s SOSIP (Streets and Open Space Improvement Plan) will guide changes in the public rights of way, and sidewalk and street adjacent to the project will be reconfigured according the SOSIP.
Just to the north of Acheson Commons is UC’s new Helios Building. To the east of the site, where Mikes’ Bikes is now, UC plans to build a ten-story office building.
Kirk Peterson, the project’s architect, said he believes these new large institutional buildings will act, in effect, as a new edge to the campus. “They will offer a strong contrast to the smaller, fine-textured residential buildings of Acheson Commons,” he said.
The Acheson project has its detractors, and key concerns raised to date include what was perceived to be a lack of affordable housing within the development, the overall density and character of the apartment units, and the prospect that union labor might not be used in construction.
At the March 29 meeting, Steve Finacom and John English, both members of the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, commmented on the treatment of the existing landmarked façades. Finacom has been documenting the meetings held to discuss the Acheson plans for the Daily Planet. The owners of Sombrero Taqueria at 2101 University expressed concern over the impact of the project on their family business. The effect of the project on Ace Hardware was also discussed, as was the possible eventual closure of Walnut Street.
“Various speakers were concerned about parts of the project, but the general massing and aesthetic of the design seemed to be well received,” said Peterson, who attended the joint session.
The public process for the review of Acheson Commons has provided an opportunity to air many issues relevant to the development and growth of Berkeley’s downtown generally, including density, historic preservation, and accommodating growth without sacrificing character.
More meetings to discuss the project, with DRC and LPC, are planned, after which it will come before the Zoning Adjustment Board. An EIR is being prepared for the project, and it will be discussed in upcoming hearings. Members of the public, who have been actively participating in discussion of the plans so far, will have further opportunities to participate in the ongoing review process.
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