The Berkeley City Council Tuesday night moved the controversial West Berkeley Project one step further towards adoption when it approved a series of amendments and modifications designed to mollify critics. The entire plan will come before the council again for a final vote on June 12.
As at previous meetings, the Council heard many passionate arguments against the third phase of the West Berkeley Project, as well as many in support. The focus during this third phase of the project was on Master Use Permits (MUP), which provide for greater flexibility in developing large sites.
The West Berkeley plan aims to expand the area’s manufacturing base to include more green businesses, R&D, and housing uses.
On Tuesday, Councilmember Laurie Capitelli brought a new compromise proposal to the chamber which, he said, he had been working on closely with stakeholders in the west Berkeley community. The suggestions concerned height limits and setbacks on new buildings, and also addressed view corridors and lot coverage.
Capitelli’s proposal included ensuring buildings be set back 5 ft from frontages abutting an MUR zone and building heights to be a maximum of 35 ft at frontage; making the maximum lot coverage in MUPs 75%; and preventing substantial detriment to view corridors, such as a structure looming over homes and public spaces.
Many members of the public, as well as a couple of councilmembers, agreed with Councilmember Kriss Worthington’s contention that a new proposal such as Capitelli’s required time to digest. “Let’s send these changes back to the Planning Commission and do it right,” he said. The council rejected that idea, although several members asked Berkeley’s Planning Director, Eric Angstadt, to make some tweaks before it was reviewed again.
The West Berkeley Plan has been under discussion for many years. Last year, the City Council approved zoning amendments for reusing and expanding existing buildings and businesses and which allowed new uses. The third part of the project dealing with MUPs would allow the creation of a maximum of no more than six MUP sites over the next ten years.
One key issue is how to minimize impact on Aquatic Park. The proposed plan includes provisions to minimize shadows on the park and require buildings to be constructed in a way to minimize harming birds, yet some environmental groups fear taller buildings may have a negative impact on wildfowl. On Tuesday, an application to consider the park for landmark status was filed with the city by Steve Finacom. Finacom, who is President of the Berkeley Historical Society and Vice President of the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association (BAHA), filed in in his own capacity. The application was submitted by signed petition of about 100 Berkeley residents
The amendments were passed after nearly three hours of discussion. Councilmembers Kriss Worthington, Jesse Arreguin and Max Anderson voted against. Arreguin repeated his assertion that the whole West Berkeley planning process had been flawed from the outset. “It’s been a top-down process driven by corporate developers,” he said.
Mayor Tom Bates argued, as he has before, that there had been “huge shifts” in the plan thanks to public comment. He also reminded those present that even when the plan is adopted, all building proposals will need to go through the usual city permitting process.
Read the full West Berkeley Project plan and watch video of Tuesday’s special meeting on the City of Berkeley’s website.
[This article was revised on May 24 to include a clarification about the landmark application.]
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