Parts of Gilman Street and Fourth Street in West Berkeley may be re-zoned from light industrial to commercial uses after a majority vote by the Berkeley City Council on Tuesday night.
The changes, depending on who you ask, will either serve simply to legitimize existing and planned commercial uses, or are an end-run around the failure of last November’s Measure T campaign that could put pressure on the neighborhood and threaten its character moving forward. (Measure T was focused on six specific sites, but opponents said it would open the floodgates to much broader development.) Proponents of the new zoning proposals say the changes would boost the city’s economy via increased revenue possibilities.
The areas under discussion included the northern side of Gilman Street, from Sixth Street up to San Pablo Avenue; the southern side of Gilman, from Ninth to San Pablo; and Fourth Street between Virginia and University avenues.
The council — with Max Anderson and Jesse Arreguín in opposition, and Kriss Worthington absent — voted to send the proposed changes, along with consideration of special rules to limit potential residential development, to the city Planning Commission. The commission would then make a recommendation for council to vote on later.
Anderson said he sees the proposal, by Mayor Tom Bates, “to be a piecemeal effort to try to get the pieces that favor the developers on the table and move them forward without the benefit of a real community discussion.”
According to the brief city staff report prepared for Tuesday’s meeting, the area under consideration on Gilman “would create a new retail node anchored by REI, Walgreens, Office Depot, and Whole Foods by San Pablo Avenue and the retail outlet stores near Sixth Street. It would also take advantage of the frontage of the Berkeley Unified School District bus yard, which was specifically reserved for future retail opportunities.”
Anderson and Arreguín described the changes as “spot zoning” without the benefit of an in-depth public process.
Councilman Laurie Capitelli said many businesses in the area already operate primarily as commercial or retail spaces, so the changes would simply make legal non-conforming uses for “people who snuck in the back door.”
“This wasn’t part of the West Berkeley plan or project that was on the ballot,” he said. “None of it was. That’s a red herring.”
Members of the public who spoke, including residents and business owners, said they were concerned about how the changes might affect them in the future, particularly if the city were to allow residential development. (The new “CW” zoning designation would potentially allow for residential development if the city doesn’t take steps to limit that type of use.)
John Mink, a volunteer at 924 Gilman, said that, though the club has been removed from the immediate area that could see changes, future residential development nearby would “probably spell the end of  Gilman” and businesses like Pyramid Alehouse. He described the Gilman as a cultural institution that put Berkeley on the map due to major musical acts, such as Green Day and other punk bands, that got their start there. He pointed to similar zoning changes in San Francisco’s SOMA neighborhood that “squeezed out” institutions that gave the area its character.
Rich Gibbon, who works at a motorcycle shop on Gilman, told the council he is worried about the potential impacts on the existing community, which he described as “thriving” and “diverse,” should homes be built too close. He noted already troubling traffic problems on Gilman, that would be exacerbated with an influx of residential properties.
Councilman Arreguín said, by his reading, the proposed changes around Fourth Street would violate the city’s General Plan. He said he is concerned about retail uses encroaching further into the city’s industrial areas.
“Even if we do draw the line, that will put pressure on existing businesses that are right next to it,” he said. Arreguín said the city should wait to take action until after a more “comprehensive approach” to planning the future of West Berkeley.
Vote update: Yes on Measure T slips further behind [11.12.12]
Measure T: Will it enhance or ruin West Berkeley? [10.29.12]
Measure T is a new chapter in the West Berkeley story [10.16.12]
Bond measures take steps toward ballot [07.11.12]
Third phase of West Berkeley Plan passes, heads to ballot [06.15.12]
West Berkeley Project a step closer to being adopted [05.24.12]
Debate continues about changes to West Berkeley [05.09.12]
Can area plan retain eclectic mix of West Berkeley? [05.08.12]
Dozens speak out about controversial West Berkeley plan [05.02.12]
Citizen groups sue city over West Berkeley proposals [05.13.11]
City takes first step towards adopting West Berkeley Plan [03.24.11]
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