A controversial mixed-use project proposed in downtown Berkeley won an important permit Thursday night after a 6-3 vote from Berkeley’s Landmarks Preservation Commission.
The construction of the first, true high-rise in the city of Berkeley (in this case the Harold Way Project), will forever change the nature of our very unusual, human-scale city. Under the unfortunately voter-approved Downtown Plan, once the high-rise limit is breached, the city will never turn back as it rushes forward to become part of what Bay Area planners sometimes admiringly refer to as “the vernacular of today.” And there is no way the skyscrapers will be forever restricted to just three — as envisaged in the Plan. Urban planning, and urban developer dynamics over the long term just don’t work that way.
The developer of 2211 Harold Way and Landmark Theatres are nearing a deal to increase the number of movie theaters in the 302-unit building in downtown Berkeley to 10 — but detractors say the changes do not go far enough.
As a long-time resident and member of the Downtown Area Planning Committee I have participated in ten years of planning, debate, initiatives, referendums and heated viewpoints on the future of our downtown. After two decisive votes, the hugely popular new plan is finally underway with exciting new buildings proposed that will contribute greatly to achieving our community vision for Downtown.
The group of Berkeley residents that lost a petition to the Landmarks Preservation Commission to landmark the view from Campanile Way is now appealing that decision before the City Council tonight. The group, led by former LPC Commissioner Steven Finacom, is concerned that a development at 2211 Harold Way would mar what they argue is a historic view.
Proponents of downtown development in Berkeley won two victories Thursday night after city leaders and commissioners approved a proposal for community benefits related to tall buildings and, in a separate meeting, certified the environmental impact analysis related to the first tall building in the pipeline, at 2211 Harold Way.
With respect for this community as a whole, I believe Berkeley City Council’s most fundamental objectives regarding downtown development have little if anything to do with funding housing for families with low and moderate incomes. Yes, better designs and development of such housing with everything needed to support it are critical to future life in the East Bay and Bay Area. But no, pressing needs for such housing are not even close to the most important goals our city council and commissions should achieve when evaluating the 2211 Harold Way proposal and the significant community benefits its construction will enable.
Harold Way could be one of the best streets in Downtown Berkeley. It’s a quiet, narrow, low-traffic, shady street with some beautiful architecture from the Dharma College buildings. It’s highly accessible – with a parking garage next door, in direct proximity to both Shattuck and Milvia (and the bike station on Shattuck), and just a few hundred feet from Downtown Berkeley BART. Harold Way is easy to get to by bus, BART, bike, foot, or car. With all the other opportunities in Downtown, a trip to Harold Way could easily be combined with a visit to the library, the theaters, the pharmacy, or even when making a transfer on the daily commute.
This is a tale of why and how the citizens of Berkeley got scammed by voting for the 2010 Measure R, and then scammed again when they voted against the 2014 Measure R. Let’s start with “why”. Why is the 2010 Measure R really a high-rise, luxury condo development plan that won’t help Berkeley’s housing problems or the environment? The answer is found in the global condo market driven by speculators parking some of their $30 trillion in liquidity (see Jack Rasmus’ “Epic Recession”) in luxury housing. These mostly foreign speculators are inflating a bubble identical to the mortgage backed securities bubble that popped in 2008. Developers are not building housing that will relieve the housing crisis for moderate and low income workers in the bay area. Instead they are catering to high-end demand from both speculators and techies.
What are the three most import things in real estate? Location, Location, Location. What are the three most important things that are wrong with the proposed complex at 2211 Harold Way? Location, Location, Location. That’s just for starters.
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