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West Berkeley Project could be implemented as city ordinance

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MAY 23, 2012

The third phase of the West Berkeley Project — a controversial long-term plan that aims to expand the area’s retail and multi-use space — could be implemented as a city ordinance.

At a special meeting Tuesday night, the Berkeley City Council discussed the project — now in its third phase — and voted to continue discussion of Councilmember Laurie Capitelli’s latest proposal at a public hearing on June 12. This latest proposal suggests a set of modifications to address recent criticisms of the third phase of the project.

According to city spokesperson Mary Kay Clunies-Ross, depending on what the council decides regarding Capitelli’s proposal, an ordinance involving the third phase of the project could potentially be put together in time for the June hearing.

An ordinance can be adopted at a special meeting, which includes the June 12 meeting, according to the city clerk’s office. If the ordinance was adopted at the hearing, it would go through two readings at regular council meetings and be put into effect 30 days later.

Over the last several weeks, city residents and council members voiced concerns during meetings about the lack of community benefits and height limitations of the project, as well as its impacts on residents and businesses.

According to the report from the city’s Planning Commission, the plan would allow developers with master use permits to build up to 100 feet high for buildings that need the space for manufacturing or production, in exchange for community benefits such as creating affordable workspaces for artists, providing job-training programs and upgrading the transportation system.

Under Capitelli’s proposal, the current 35-foot height limit in residential areas and the 50-foot height limit in commercial areas would be maintained in West Berkeley. The maximum height limit for developers with master use permits would be 75 feet, and in no case would a building be allowed to exceed 100 feet.

“I think we have an opportunity to move forward on the item,” Capitelli said. “I’ve tried to balance what I believe are many competing interests, (but) I don’t know of anybody in the audience that will stand up and say this is a wonderful plan.”

To preserve the quality of Berkeley Aquatic Park West — a West Berkeley park that will be affected by the project’s developments — Capitelli proposed to keep the height of the buildings around the park to a maximum of 75 feet and  “prevent looming structures over public spaces.”

Although they approved of the progress, many residents continued to voice their dissatisfaction with the height limits in both the commission’s and Capitelli’s proposals.

“Seventy-five feet is still unreasonable no matter how many other compromises you include,” said Berkeley resident George Manning at the meeting.

Many residents were also disappointed that Capitelli did not make his proposal available to the public before the meeting.

“The procedure has been screwed up,” said city resident Gene Poschman at the meeting. “People have not talked to people … It came from the council without any input from the citizens themselves.”

Council members also suggested amendments — which will be considered at the June hearing — to Capitelli’s proposal including the specificity of the language and the height and space flexibility of the project. Councilmember Linda Maio brought up the idea that any building developments would have to provide a variety of height limits.

“I think it’s very good news that there are numerous changes being proposed in this document being presented as a compromise … (but) we still don’t have a document we can be proud of,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington.

Daphne Chen covers city government.

MAY 23, 2012

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