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Major office/R&D campus proposed near Aquatic Park

The Jones family, which owns this 9-acre parcel fronting Aquatic Park, is asking Berkeley for a Master Use Permit to develop a life science "campus" of four to six buildings. Photo: Joe DeCredico
The Jones family, which owns this 9-acre parcel fronting Aquatic Park, is asking Berkeley for a Master Use Permit to develop a life science “campus” of four to six buildings. Photo: Joe DeCredico

The family that has owned a two-block-long swath of land along Aquatic Park since 1979 is asking the city of Berkeley for a Master Use Permit to construct “a premier life science research and development campus” along the waterfront.

Jason Jones, who owns the land with his father, Charles, wants to transform the 8.67-acre parcel, which is bordered by Bolivar Drive to the west, Addison Street to the north, Union Pacific Railroad Tracks (aka Third Street) to the east, and Bancroft to the south, into a cluster of four to six buildings that will hold light industrial manufacturing, research and development space, offices and stores, according to documents submitted to the city.

There will be a community meeting about the project, known as Aquatic Park Campus, on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at the Frances Albrier Community Center Auditorium, 200 Park St. The official addresses for the proposed MUP are 600 Addison St., 91 Bolivar Dr., and 2222 Third St.

The complex would cover 475,000 square feet of land and would include “an urban-style mini-plaza” at the corner of Addison Street and Bolivar Drive to provide “a gateway experience to the project,” according to documents. There would be a 300,000 square foot parking structure, a 2,500-square-foot manufacturing building, (a mitigation for a plant that was torn down about three years ago so Jones could do an environmental clean-up of the land). As a community benefit, the project would also widen Bolivar Street and add paths, sidewalks, landscaping, bike paths, and parking, according to Joe DeCredico, the land use planning consultant for the project.


A rendering of one of the proposed designs for the 9-acre complex by Aquatic Park. Photo:
A rendering of one of the proposed designs for the 9-acre complex by Aquatic Park. Photo: Jones family

Jones’ vision “is to create the Aquatic Park Campus, a premier life science research and development campus within a West Berkeley area already home to established firms like Bayer Pharmaceuticals, XOMA, and Dynavax; as well as a number of innovative startups like Polyplus, Acuity, and SEEO,” the project manager, DeCredico, wrote to Berkeley.

Jones, operating as Aquatic Park Science Center, LLC, may develop the project himself, may hire another contractor to build the project, or may sell the property if the MUP is granted, said DeCredico.

The application presents two alternatives for the site and Jones wants the city to approve both designs for maximum flexibility, said DeCredico. One design would have the main entrance to the complex off of Addison Street and would allow for a parking structure to be built along the railroad tracks. That building would act as a sound buffer for the office/R&D buildings that would jut from the parking structure like fingers. There would be courtyards between the buildings.

A second proposed design for the complex by Aquatic Park.
A second proposed design for the complex by Aquatic Park. Photo: Jones family

The second design also has the parking structure along the railrod tracks, but in a more centralized structure with L-shaped buildings coming off that building, said DeCredico.

To create the complex, the developer will have to demolish two warehouses and a laboratory building, although construction would be phased in and probably start on the southern end which now just contains a number of large dirt piles, said DeCredico. All of the proposed new buildings would comply with existing zoning codes, which allow 45-feet high structures in the area. The neighborhood is zoned for Mixed Industrial and Light Manufacturing (MULI), according to documents presented to the city.

Berkeley has not processed a Master Use Permit since Bayer applied for one, and there is no-one in the Planning Department who has experience with the process, said DeCredico. One advantage of getting a MUP is that it provides more flexibility in what the buildings are used for. An MUP allows for a shift of up to 25% of one approved use to another, he said. So if 75% of the buildings are initially constructed for commercial and office uses and another 25% is built for R&D, the complex could, if needed, become 100% commercial or 50% R&D, said DeCredico. “Innovation” companies of today often have to change up their space to respond to changes in their markets and the economy, he said.

The community meeting is just one of a long list of steps that Jones will have to take while seeking approval for a MUP. The city has indicated that Jones will have to obtain an environmental impact report for the project. The project will also have to go through a series of reviews by the Landmark Preservation Commission, Design Review, and Zoning Adjustments Board.

This part of West Berkeley was the focus of 2012’s Measure T, a controversial proposal to increase the height and density of a few blocks of the neighborhood to allow development. Measure T, which would have permitted construction of six large developments over ten years, was defeated by just 512 votes. Residents of the area, however, were mostly against the plan because they said it would affect views and quality of life.

While this project is in its early stages, Toni Mester, a longtime West Berkeley resident, has already raised concern about its impact on the view of Aquatic Park. In an article in the Daily Planet, Mester wrote: “Even building heights of 45’ would block views from the Aquatic Park, less so from the pedestrian bridge. The alignment and placement of the proposed buildings would impact the views, especially since the project site is sloped from Fourth Street to Bolivar Drive along the lagoon, which once formed the eastern edge of San Francisco Bay.”

DeCredico said he expects there will be pushback on the proposed complex, probably around the height and bulk of the structures, the land use, and the community benefits package. He said environmentalists already have asked that the developer do a thorough clean-up of Aquatic Park as a mitigation, he said. That is too big a task for the Jones family, he said. The developer is currently talking to the Parks Department about how improvements to the city-owned Bolivar Street could serve as a mitigation.

Since it is an election year, “politically it could become a football,” said DeCredico. But since the complex fits in with current zoning code and height limits he expects it to be approved, he said.

This article has been corrected to say that the second design also has parking in a stucture off the railroad track. It originally said the structure was next to Bolivar Drive.

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