Thursday night, Berkeley’s zoning board approved an 18-story mixed-use building at the downtown Walgreens site, set to bring 274 new apartments to the city.
Project representatives said Shattuck Terrace Green Apartments at 2190 Shattuck Ave., at Allston Way, will bring $10.1 million to the city’s Housing Trust Fund. The city leverages that money to build affordable housing elsewhere in Berkeley. The project itself will not include any below-market-rate units.
Community members who spoke to the Zoning Adjustments Board about Shattuck Terrace Green were primarily in two camps: those who said they were disturbed by the impact the building would have on the view of the Golden Gate from campus, and those who said the city must prioritize housing over views. Student voices were particularly vociferous Thursday night on the critical need for more housing in Berkeley.
The project, from San Francisco-based Mill Creek Residential, includes 10,000 square feet of ground-floor retail. Staff told the board: “The idea is to have Walgreens move back.”
Walgreens has a right to return under its lease, “and Mill Creek is actively in discussion with them around the specifics,” said Jason Overman, project spokesman. The project team estimated it might take four years to finish Shattuck Terrace Green, including one year for construction drawings and 2.5 years to build.
“We are really excited to be contributing $10.1 million for affordable housing, which is a tremendous community need,” Overman told Berkeleyside.
The project is set to include 125 studios, 82 one-bedroom units and 67 units with two bedrooms. It has about 100 spots each for cars and bikes. The building’s location right over BART was highly touted. There are also plans for a community room — programming to be determined — and an “arts walk” outside.
The issue of views came up repeatedly Thursday, particularly the view west from the UC Berkeley campus and Campanile Way. Council recently rejected a citizen effort to landmark Campanile Way, making Thursday night’s decision somewhat more straightforward.
Commissioner Shoshana O’Keefe, Councilwoman Sophie Hahn’s appointee, reminded her colleagues on the board that a city committee is already hard at work figuring out objective view standards that can be applied in the future.
Commissioner Charles Kahn, Councilwoman Susan Wengraf’s appointee, said the developer had taken a more expensive approach to building design — angling it, softening the corners and making it less boxy — to respond to community concerns about the view loss.
“They haven’t eliminated the blockage of this view, but they have avoided the construction that would have made it worse,” Kahn said. “So I just want to give them some credit for doing that.”
Don Peterson of Mill Creek Residential told the board a project labor agreement is in place to ensure “good union jobs” will get the work done. A representative from the Building & Construction Trades Council of Alameda County confirmed the deal and told the board Berkeley’s Rising Sun Energy Center, which helps train youth to enter the building trades, is also on board.
The project will seek LEED Gold certification. The design emphasizes exterior shading, with high-performance glazing on the windows and movable elements on the facade to make it more energy efficient. There will be low-consuming fixtures and “a lot of … materials that are certified low-impact and regional to the extent we can,” the project architect, from WRNS Studio, told the board.
There will also be “lushly-planted roof decks” on floors seven, 13 and 18. This will create community spaces, said the architect, and help with stormwater management, filtration, water catchment and reuse.
Commissioner Patrick Sheahan, appointee of Councilwoman Cheryl Davila, expressed disappointment that there wouldn’t be solar panels on the roof, or an effort to seek LEED Platinum certification.
“This is a dinosaur of a building,” said Sheahan. “I’m extremely disappointed at the lack of initiative in terms of energy and addressing the issue of climate change. I think it’s frankly unpardonable.”
Commissioner John Selawsky, Councilman Ben Bartlett’s appointee, said he saw Shattuck Terrace Green’s close proximity to nearby Harold Way as a potential problem. He said it seemed “unfair” to put two tall buildings so close together and wasn’t sure about having an 18-story building on the Walgreens site.
“I haven’t heard arguments that put my concerns to rest entirely. I’m not against dense housing,” he said. “Eighteen stories a block-and-a-half away … gives me major pause.”
Other commissioners praised the building’s design, the influx of money it would bring to the city’s Housing Trust Fund and its location right atop BART.
One speaker during public comment estimated the project would bring in about $3 million to the city annually in property taxes, in addition to the $10.1 million for the Housing Trust Fund: “This is a perfect urban infill project right on top of the BART station,” he said.
Another speaker took the opposite position and said the project was “making absurd use of the location by BART.” She said buildings like this do not meet the needs of existing Berkeley residents: “It meets the needs of people who want to live here who have money,” she told the board.
Acting Chair O’Keefe said she was “very conflicted” about the project because of the view impact, which would indeed be a loss for the city of Berkeley. But she also noted that there are other places nearby where Berkeleyans can enjoy dramatic westward views.
“This is not the only place in the city of Berkeley where you can see that view,” O’Keefe said. “It is a very special one, but it is not the only one.”
The board voted 6-2 in favor of the project, with O’Keefe, Kahn, Teresa Clarke and Dohee Kim in support. Two substitute commissioners, Katie Gladstein Skjerping and Nicolaus Wright, also voted yes.
The no votes were Sheahan and Selawsky. Commissioner Carrie Olson was absent.
The zoning board decision is appealable to the Berkeley City Council.
The Walgreens tower is one of seven tall buildings allowed by voters under the city’s Downtown Area Plan. The plan was adopted in 2012 after residents endorsed its concepts in 2010. The plan allows for the construction of three 180-foot-tall buildings in Berkeley’s downtown core, and two 120-foot-high buildings. UC Berkeley has the right to build two more 120-foot structures.
UC Berkeley has completed a 120-foot building on Berkeley Way.