Op-ed: New 783-bed, 8-story-high Stiles student housing project is too big

The University is poised to approve what may be its largest student housing project to date, the Stiles Student Housing project, in the form of this behemoth of a structure providing 783 beds for students on one of few remaining University parking lots, on Bancroft, just west of Telegraph. Although our City needs more housing, we need to make sure that we’re building the right kinds of housing, in the right quantities for the right sites. This enormous project is too much, too high, and too dense. Perhaps more importantly, it does not account for the impacts that result from building from property line to property line and closing the heavily used parking lot.

If the University pushes this project through approval without modification, our community will be stuck with the consequences, including a prison-like façade overwhelming the neighborhood, for decades to come.

This rendering shows the Stiles Site Student Housing Project from Spieker Plaza on the UC Berkeley campus, looking southeast. Photo: UC Berkeley
This rendering shows the Stiles Site Student Housing Project from Spieker Plaza on the UC Berkeley campus, looking southeast. Photo: UC Berkeley
A rendering of how the Stiles student housing project would look on Bancroft Avenue. Photo: UC Berkeley
A rendering of how the Stiles student housing project would look on Bancroft Avenue. Photo: UC Berkeley

Our community must come together to persuade the University to scale down its plans to align better and less disruptively with the existing neighborhood. Public comments are due this week.

The University’s rationale and justification for this project are complex but inadequate, and our community has barely engaged with what is happening.  We urge interested Berkeley citizens and officials to examine the University’s documentation and limited public review.


This site provides links to all the publicly available documents, including the extensive visuals offered on March 17 to the City Design Review Board and the 54-page Addendum to the UC 2020 Long Range Development Plan EIR issued on March 24.

Read about the project on Berkeleyside.

Please join us in asking the University to rethink the project based on the neighborhood, our community needs, and a full environmental analysis, including an independent EIR, so that the decision makers have the information necessary to make an informed decision before the project is presented to the Regents in May 2016, as planned.

At the city of Berkeley’s Design Review Committee meeting March 17 community members raised important issues and most committee members were highly critical of the project. Citizens critiqued its size and worried that the monolithic structure would completely cover a previously open space. They also noted the extraordinarily high occupancy of an already intensely used public area and the ways that this development would disrupt local amenities and values.  The existing parking lot is fully used nearly every day, often into the night and throughout the weekends. It’s not clear how a project without a single parking space will account for this loss to our community.

Everyone understands Berkeley’s need for more moderate cost housing and the University’s need to help. But this project is development and disruption on steroids, and needs to be modified.

We encourage Berkeleyside readers to study and respond to this information and weigh in on the addendum as the University suggests:

Under CEQA an addendum need not be circulated for public review. Comments on the document are welcome, however, prior to 5 p.m. Thursday, April 14, 2016.  Please email them to planning@berkeley.edu.

We who have been worrying about this think that the best way to slow down this speedy go-ahead is for many concerned citizens to ask for a full EIR review of the project by April 14.

Related:
UC Berkeley plans 8-story building with student housing (11.16.15)

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William McClung is President of the 2430 Arts Alliance and General Partner of University Press Books/Berkeley and the Musical Offering, both located next to the proposed project on Bancroft Way. Martin Holden is a board member of the 2430 Arts Alliance and former architecture critic for San Francisco Magazine.