Council postpones further action on West Berkeley Project to special meeting

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The Berkeley City Council voted at its meeting Tuesday to postpone further discussion of the West Berkeley Project — a long-term plan that aims to expand the area’s retail and multi-use space — to a special meeting next week.

City residents and councilmembers voiced mixed opinions during the meeting’s public comment period and ensuing public hearing regarding the lack of community benefits and height limits of the project. The third and current phase of the project would provide for a new master use permit process for blocks of land as large as a full city block in West Berkeley, according to a report from the city’s Planning Commission.

“We’re involved in trying to clean up something that’s pretty raggedy,” said Councilmember Max Anderson during the hearing. “This thing has mushroomed from some almost housekeeping zoning changes and corrections to a full blown revamp of the area.”

Although most of West Berkeley currently limits buildings to be built up to 45 feet high, the third phase would raise the limit to 75 feet in certain areas.

According to the report from the commission, the project would also 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.

Mark Chekal-Bain, a representative of State Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, read a statement from Skinner expressing her approval of the project.

“I understand change is not easy for us Berkeleyans, but I believe these changes will help Berkeley thrive,” he read.

At the meeting, the commission presented modifications that would require the council to adopt specific and concrete community benefit agreements before there are any changes to the project.

The commission also included other modifications for the area’s Berkeley Aquatic Park West to prevent “unreasonable” shadows of buildings on any “sensitive area” and comply with environmental guidelines to reduce bird collisions.

However, despite the modifications, residents criticized the necessity of the project itself during the public comment portion of the meeting.

“(West Berkeley’s) not broke,” said Berkeley resident David Snipper. “Why do you have to change something that’s not broke?”

Though the city council suggested proposals following continued debate about the commission’s presentation and modifications to the plan, due to time limitations, the council voted to resume discussion at a special meeting on May 22nd that will also deal with the city’s mutual aid agreements and redistricting.

“It just seems far more logical to me that we send this back … to have those (issues) fixed before we adopt the ordinance,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington. “There is no deadline that God has established to have this done right this minute.”

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