On Saturday, Berkeley community activists attempted to raise balloons almost 200 feet high to visualize the impact of a proposed 18-story mixed-use building in Downtown Berkeley, which is currently in the process of receiving approval for construction.
The Sustainable Berkeley Coalition, a group of community activists, protested at the the site of the proposed 18-story residential and commercial complex at 2211 Harold Way. They expressed a list of concerns, including the project’s environmental impact, the demolition of Shattuck Cinemas, a potential lack of inclusionary housing and the possibility of blocking the view of the Golden Gate Bridge from Campanile Way.
At the demonstration, the group attempted to raise four sets of balloons — one at every corner of the proposed building site — 194 feet in the air to visualize the impact of the project.
“(The high-rise) is totally inappropriate — much too large (a) building in a historic building area,” said Charlene Woodcock, a spokesperson for the event.
The group decided to demonstrate with balloons, she said, after the project’s developers did not put up a visual model of the building’s height and scale, despite requests from community members. Mark Rhoades, consultant for the high-rise project, could not be reached for comment.
Woodcock said the coalition’s primary concern was the project’s required demolition of Shattuck Cinemas.
“The Shattuck Cinema is the economic engine of Downtown Berkeley,” said Paul Matzner, the founder of Save Shattuck Cinemas, at the balloon demonstration. He said the cinema and local businesses will be affected by the construction for at least three years, and the project’s proposed plan includes replacing six of Shattuck Cinemas’ 10 theaters with new cinemas.
Shattuck Cinemas currently attracts 275,00 to 300,000 patrons annually, according to manager Kimberlee West.
John Caner, CEO of the Downtown Berkeley Association, said the loss of the theater will only be short term. He said that the new complex’s theaters will be much more competitive and that new facilities in the building will bring “long-term gain” after the construction.
The project has more steps to take before construction can start. In addition to winning approval from the Zoning Adjustment Board, the city’s Landmark Preservation Commission also has to determine that the new building will not affect the features of the Shattuck Hotel, a designated city landmark already on the site.
According to John McBride, the president for the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, some LPC commissioners are concerned about the height and scale of the new building.
“This is the most complicated issue the city has faced in decades,” McBride said. “Everything is tangled up in knots here.”
Woodcock said the coalition will attempt to raise balloons again Tuesday.