Hundreds of housing units on the Ashby BART parking lot.
Narrower, tree-lined streets and raised bike paths. Tenant-landlord trainings, realigned intersections, a flourishing flea market.
The new proposed 20-year transformation of the “Adeline corridor” is not just a swipe of mascara and a dab of lip gloss, but a full makeover. And, five years after Berkeley got a grant to come up with the plan, the 203-page document has finally made its debut.
The draft Adeline Corridor Specific Plan and Environmental Impact Report are already available online, and will be presented to the public tonight, Wednesday, at the South Berkeley Senior Center at 6:30 p.m.
The proposed plan presents a comprehensive vision for the 1.3-mile, 86-acre stretch of Adeline Street and Shattuck Avenue between Dwight Way and the Oakland border, dealing with housing, street redesign, economic development and culture.
Some South Berkeley residents, jaded after previous ambitious plans didn’t pan out, have questioned whether this one will be any different, and whether it will address or exacerbate the urgent challenges they identify in their neighborhood: high housing prices and the displacement of communities of color.
The city used the 2014 Metropolitan Transportation Commission grant, and a subsequent extension, to collect that sort of input at numerous meetings and workshops.
“Throughout the planning process, many community members expressed a concern that the accelerated pace of demographic and economic change in the area over the last several decades threatened to ‘make invisible’ key defining characteristics and values that have made South Berkeley the place it is today,” wrote city staff and consultants in the plan draft. Raimi + Associates took over from MIG as the consultants during the process.
The plan is designed to retain and celebrate the neighborhood’s diversity, according to its authors. South Berkeley, once home to a thriving Japanese-American population, saw the incarceration of those families and an influx of black residents during World War II. In recent years, as house prices have shot up, that population has plummeted too.
The draft plan predicts the construction of 1,450 new housing units along the corridor in the next two decades. It sets a goal of 50% affordable units — typically defined as no more than 30% of a resident’s income — for a range of income levels.
“However, our economic analysis indicates that, even with the incentives, including such high shares of affordable housing will not be economically feasible for most projects,” wrote staff in the plan.
Instead, authors said, the city should reserve all available public lots for affordable projects. The plan even floats the fire station on Shattuck and Derby Street as a possible site for redevelopment. But the proposed hundreds — up to 900 — housing units on the Ashby BART parking lot are critical if the city is to meet the 50% affordability goal, the draft plan indicates.
The new plan says the city should use available public lots for affordable housing projects.
Berkeley owns the “air rights” to the approximately six acres of parking at the Ashby station, meaning the city can build on top of the site, but BART owns the tunnels underneath it. The arrangement was one outcome of the successful push and lawsuit by South Berkeley activists, led by Mable Howard, to underground the tracks when they were installed around 1970. But many homes and businesses in what was then a lively black neighborhood were still razed to build the station.
The draft Adeline corridor plan proposes converting the lot into “a vibrant neighborhood center with high-density mixed-use development, structured parking…ground floor commercial and civic uses, and new public space.”
Because they rely on tax credits, nonprofit developers would likely not be able to build hundreds of residential units at once, staff said, so the work could be broken into a few distinct projects over several years.
“I think it should happen and will happen.” — City Councilman Ben Bartlett on Ashby BART development
“I think it should happen and will happen,” said City Councilman Ben Bartlett, who represents the area, on the BART development. “It’s rare to have this large a site available with also darn-near unanimous consent on the need for affordability.”
The draft plan also proposes zoning changes for the entire corridor area, introducing a tiered system wherein developers could add more height and density to their projects if they included more affordable units. For example, developers would be allowed to build three-story buildings along most of the corridor, but could add a fourth story if 20% of the units were affordable or a fifth with 35% — up to seven stories.
Currently most of the area is zoned as C-SA, which has different standards for different types of buildings, unlike the new proposal. Developers can exceed the existing standards by receiving a use permit from the city or a density bonus from the state, and like with projects throughout Berkeley, they can either include the required percentage of affordable units or pay a mitigation fee.
The proposed zoning is meant to make the rules “more transparent” and to “generate more onsite affordable units,” said Alisa Shen, principal planner for the Adeline corridor project.
The tiered incentive system would be a first for Berkeley, and could act as a pilot for the rest of the city, Shen said. The draft plan also proposes a local preference system for affordable housing, giving priority to people who currently live or work near the new developments, or who’ve been displaced from the neighborhood.
“Government and banking policies displaced and segregated residents of the Adeline neighborhood for decades,” the draft plan says. “Today, as the region’s growth outpaces wage growth, housing price spikes in the neighborhood are pricing out many long-term residents. While many of the institutions that connect the community remain (churches, shops), the supporting community is forced to leave or commute from outer suburbs.”
Plan suggests total overhaul of street design
On weekends, the Ashby parking lot is taken over by the 50-year-old Berkeley Flea Market, one of the cultural institutions residents have implored the city to protect. The Adeline plan calls for a new dedicated space at the site for the flea market, possibly a relocated farmers market and the Juneteenth festival. The rows of flea market booths and food trucks currently occupy most of the main lot, so the new open space would inevitably force the market to downsize. But the proposal calls for greater investment — bathrooms, a stage, weather protection — in the struggling market.
The plan also encourages more public art and homages to South Berkeley’s history and contemporary culture throughout the district.
The streets around Ashby BART would look quite different themselves if the plan is approved and brought to life.
Adeline is an extremely wide street, up to 180 feet across, which transportation analysts say creates safety hazards and other issues for pedestrians who cross it.
The proposed plan divides the corridor into distinct chunks, suggesting redesigns meant to make the main streets more pedestrian- and bike-friendly, with more accessible green space and rows of trees.
Along the north Adeline stretch, for example, the proposal would replace the existing 56-foot-wide median with 16 to 32 feet of open space along the west side of the street and a much narrower median between the traffic lanes. There would be some parallel street parking, creating a protected bike lane on one side of the street. On the other, a two-way bike track would be added, flanked by a pedestrian path and a drive aisle.
On the south Adeline portion, between the BART station and the Oakland border, the proposal would reduce the traffic lanes in each direction from three to two.
“I love the idea of a green corridor there,” Bartlett said. “I want to see it done really well and effectively. It’s a traffic calming measure, and we’ve just been suffering so severely with pedestrian injuries in that area.”
The draft plan also envisions the realignment of several prominent intersections along the corridor, including Adeline and Ashby Avenue, and Adeline, Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Stanford Avenue. It wouldn’t be easy to reconfigure the problematic intersections, staff said, but the plan lays out general suggestions.
The plan and draft environmental impact report are still subject to change before the final drafts make their way to the City Council for approval.
Members of the public can submit comments by email or mail through July 1. Staff will present the plan at tonight’s community meeting and hold a public hearing at the Berkeley Planning Commission meeting June 5.
After the draft is discussed at several additional public meetings, the city will review public input, bring a final draft back to the planning commission, and aim to bring it to the City Council in early 2020.
Friends of Adeline, a community advocacy group, has called its own meeting in June to develop a response to the draft plan. The group has said it wants the final plan to prioritize low-income housing, the flea market, anti-displacement measures and the homeless population.
Most of the changes proposed in the Adeline corridor plan would be extremely expensive — some more than others. The draft plan reviews all the possible funding streams, including state and federal grants, local bond measures and the city’s housing fund. The plan does not put specific price tags on each of the pieces or propose detailed funding mechanisms for the projects.
The Adeline Corridor Specific Plan aligns with some existing city plans, around transportation and climate, according to staff, and the adopted version would supersede the previous South Berkeley plans.
See the city’s webpage about the Adeline corridor planning process.