Tag Archives: Berkeley Downtown Area Plan

Berkeley city attorney: Main post office may have sold

Post Office by Darius Wekwerth
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The Berkeley city attorney has informed the City Council he believes someone has purchased the downtown U.S. post office at 2000 Allston Way, and that it is time for Berkeley to file a lawsuit against the U.S. Postal Service to stop the sale.

A letter to that effect was leaked to the Berkeley Daily Planet, which published it on Thursday.

Zach Cowan, Berkeley’s city attorney, told Berkeleyside he could not share the letter he sent to council since it was privileged attorney-client communication. But Cowan said the version on the Planet website was accurate.

“It is my conclusion that at a minimum a buyer has been chosen, and that it is likely that there is at least a letter of understanding in place, if not a contract and perhaps an open escrow,” Cowan wrote to council, according to the Daily Planet.Continue reading »

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With Berkeley set to change civic center zoning, US Postal Service ponders lawsuit

The Berkeley City Council is poised to set up new zoning standards in Civic Center. Image: City of Berkeley
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The U.S. Postal Service is pushing back against a city proposal to limit development at its downtown Berkeley post office property, which has been up for sale since 2012.

Tuesday night, the Berkeley City Council is slated to approve that proposal, to establish more restrictive development standards in Berkeley’s civic center on nine parcels, including the post office property at Allston Way and Milvia Street.

An attorney for the post office, R. Clark Morrison, has sent five letters to the city since January in opposition to the plan, decrying it as spot zoning, and saying the city’s decision not to pursue a full environmental review in connection with the plan is at odds with its own code and the law. On Monday, Morrison declined to comment on the matter, but one city staffer familiar with the issue said the USPS is likely to sue the city if council approves the zoning changes.

Postal Service spokesman Augustine Ruiz Jr. said via email Monday that “The Postal Service is evaluating all options with respect to the actions taken by the City of Berkeley, including evaluating the possibility of litigation.” … Continue reading »

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New 8-story Berkeley building wins easy approval

Stonefire. Image: Johnson Lyman Architects
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Berkeley’s zoning board unanimously approved a new 8-story building on University Avenue, at Milvia Street, on Thursday night.

StoneFire is set to take the place of the Firestone tire shop at 1974 University Ave..

No one spoke against the project in the relatively short hearing before the Zoning Adjustments Board on Thursday. It was the project’s first official review by the board, after a preview session in April. The project also received unanimous support from the city’s Design Review Committee after three sessions with that panel in 2013 and 2014.

Read more about development in Berkeley in past Berkeleyside coverage.

Developer William Schrader Jr., of Alamo-based The Austin Group, told the zoning board the project has been in the works for a couple of years, and that he has met extensively with the city, neighbors and stakeholders to make sure they’re on board with his plans.  … Continue reading »

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Berkeley hotel plans halted pending initiative vote

The developer for a downtown Berkeley hotel proposal at Shattuck and Center said his plans are on hold pending November's election. Image: JRDV Urban International
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A proposal for a downtown Berkeley mixed-use high-rise hotel, which had begun working its way through the city’s approval process, is now on hold pending the outcome of November’s vote on an initiative that would significantly change the city’s zoning process and requirements.

A representative from the development team for the Berkeley Place project, where the Bank of America currently operates on Center Street, announced that decision before the Berkeley City Council in July and confirmed it in the middle of the month.

But the city official who represents downtown Berkeley, and who has been a main proponent behind the new initiative, has questioned the claims that the project has truly been halted. Councilman Jesse Arreguín said developers are using the specter of the initiative to scaremonger, and are using it to make a political point. … Continue reading »

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Wording of Berkeley ballot initiative headed to court

Downtown Berkeley, May 2014. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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The backers of a downtown Berkeley initiative that voters will consider in November plan to file a lawsuit next week to force the city to change the wording in the ballot measure. They contend that the summary is inaccurate, biased and misleading.

The decision to go to court was in response to Berkeley’s decision not to voluntarily change the wording of the ballot measure. City Councilman Jesse Arreguín had sent a letter on July 21 to City Attorney Zach Cowan asking for changes, but Cowan responded in a July 24 letter that he did not have the power to modify the wording. Only the Berkeley City Council, which is in recess until September, can make those changes, Cowan said.

“It is unfortunate that the City Council was not advised, at the time the biased and factually inaccurate Ballot Statement language was put forward, that such language violates legal standards,” Arreguín wrote Cowan on July 30. “In light of that omission, and given that the City Council is on recess, we have no choice but to seek judicial relief to protect the rights of all Berkeley voters to fair elections.”

Continue reading »

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At B-Side: Implications of downtown Berkeley initiative

At the first B-Side forum co-sponsored by The Hub and Berkeleyside, participants debated the merits of this fall's downtown initiative. From left, Lance Knobel of Berkeleyside, Jesse Arreguín and Eric Panzer. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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About 50 people gathered at Berkeley’s David Brower Center last week for a discussion about the ballot initiative supporters say will put more “green” in local development, but which opponents argue will stop new projects that are contributing to a downtown renaissance and are bringing critical amenities to the city.

Berkeley Councilman Jesse Arreguín faced off against Eric Panzer, chair of Livable Berkeley and the treasurer of the group opposing the initiative. They joined Berkeleyside co-founder Lance Knobel at Impact Hub Berkeley last Tuesday evening in the first of a series of informal discussions about Berkeley issues — co-sponsored by Berkeleyside and the Hub — called The B-Side.Continue reading »

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Berkeleyside launches new talk series, The B-Side

Downtown Berkeley, May 2014. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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This week, Berkeleyside, in collaboration with Impact Hub Berkeley, launched a new talk series designed to facilitate conversations about issues going on right here, right now in Berkeley.

The B-Side kicks off on the evening of July 15 at Impact Hub Berkeley with a talk titled “Downtown Development Initiative: Boon or Bane?” Jesse Arreguín, councilmember for District 4, will go head to head with  planner and smart growth advocate Eric Panzer in a discussion moderated by Berkeleyside co-founder Lance Knobel. Given all the plans for downtown Berkeley, and the vocal arguments for and against them, this promises to be a lively debate, and one participants will be encouraged to join. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley tall condo project gets first city reviews

Early drawings, which are set to change, of a 120-foot condo project in the works at Shattuck Avenue and Berkeley Way. Image: The Bay Architects
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Berkeley zoning board commissioners asked the architect for a 120-foot-tall building planned for Shattuck Avenue to make the project less suburban, craft a better street-level retail experience and take steps to retain existing local merchants on site during a review late last week.

The board expressed excitement about the project, but also offered extensive feedback, which was the purpose of the preview session June 26. No action was scheduled or taken.

The 12-story, mixed-use development at 1951-1975 Shattuck Ave. — called L’Argent — is set to include 78 apartments of 1,200 to 1,600 square feet on 10 floors, along with 10,000 square feet of retail on the bottom two stories. Currently, the project includes 91 parking spots and 30 bike storage spaces, according to city staff. (The project architect said there are more than 50 bicycle stalls planned.)

Read more about the details of L’Argent in past Berkeleyside coverage.

The project is in the very early stages of city review, and is likely to change in various ways over the next year as it seeks the necessary approvals and permits. … Continue reading »

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Downtown initiative on ballot; Berkeley city, schools may lose millions in fees

Downtown Berkeley, May 2014. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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The majority of the Berkeley City Council exerted its political muscle Tuesday night by voting for a ballot description for the downtown initiative drawn up by Mayor Tom Bates that is less flattering than the ones offered by the city attorney and Councilman Jesse Arreguín, the main proponent of the initiative.

Bates’ description of the initiative, which would require all buildings in the downtown area over 60 feet to meet high environmental standards that are now voluntary, uses terms like “impose significant new requirements,” and “restrict” and “reduce.” It also mentions a provision that would “reduce hours of operation for businesses selling or serving alcohol.” … Continue reading »

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Berkeley mayor to push for civic center overlay, also hopes it will reduce support for downtown ‘green’ initiative

Bates wants the city council to adopt a zoning overlay to protect historic buildings in the civic center area, like Veterans' Memorial Hall. He admits he hopes the push will undermine support for a Downtown Green Initiative scheduled for November ballot. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
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Mayor Tom Bates has decided to push for a civic center overlay that will protect the Main Post Office, and admits he hopes his support will undermine the downtown zoning initiative scheduled for the November ballot.

Bates wants Berkeley to adopt the exact language of the initiative, which was put forward by City Councilman Jesse Arreguín, in part because of Arreguín’s frustration that council had not adopted the overlay previously. Arreguín first introduced the overlay idea in July 2013. Council sent the item to the city Planning Commission for review and, after discussing it at a September meeting, referred it back to city staff.

Bates now wants council to discuss the overlay at its June 24 meeting, and to consider an ordinance at its Sept. 9 meeting. Bates will suggest that timeline at an Agenda Committee meeting today (Item 21).

“There is general agreement on the council that we would like to save the Post Office, and this is a good way to do it,” said Bates. … Continue reading »

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Would new green initiative kill 2 downtown high rises?

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Update, June 14: The initiative has qualified for the November 2014 ballot.

Original story: As volunteers man the entrances to Berkeley Bowl, wander the farmers markets, and stop people on the street to collect signatures for what is called the “Green Downtown & Public Commons Initiative,” the various sides disagree on the impact the initiative may have on development in Berkeley.

City Councilman Jesse Arreguín, who is a main backer of the drive, says the initiative is merely aimed at making major developers contribute more community benefits.

“This measure is not intended to stop development at all,” said Arreguín. “Its purpose is to codify some of the community benefits that were not only made in the Downtown Plan, but in Measure R.”

But many in the development community disagree. They believe the initiative, with its higher green standards and less flexible design guidelines, could stop two current projects — the proposed 180-foot hotel at the intersection of Shattuck Avenue and Center Street, and the 17-story residential apartment tower behind the Shattuck Cinemas building. At the very least, if the initiative passes, it will make it harder to build taller structures downtown. … Continue reading »

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Op-ed: Beware deceptive ‘Save Post Office’ ballot petition

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Don’t be deceived. Backers of a proposed measure for the Berkeley ballot in November are circulating voter-signature petitions under the guise of “saving the Post Office.” But the main thrust of the measure is to impose prohibitively restrictive fees and requirements on new projects in Berkeley’s core downtown. It would not guarantee that the Post Office would continue operating.

The result would be a devastating blow to our acclaimed Downtown Area Plan. This successful plan was formulated through extensive public … Continue reading »

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Initiative aims to tighten ‘green’ parts of Downtown Plan

Downtown-resized
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Update: 6//14: The initiative has qualified for the November 2014 ballot.

Original story: City Councilman Jesse Arreguín, some members of the environmental community, the labor community, and preservationists are circulating a ballot initiative that would drastically overhaul elements of the Berkeley Downtown Area Plan endorsed by voters in 2010 and codified by the city council in 2012.

The initiative would restore the “green” in the “Green Vision” part of the plan, according to Arreguín.

It would essentially mandate that all buildings in the downtown core taller than 60 feet high follow the more stringent “Green Pathways” provision of the Downtown Area Plan, rather than making that an optional track for developers. … Continue reading »

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