Telegraph’s critical juncture

CITY AFFAIRS: Nearly one year after a Telegraph Avenue building burned, taking two popular eateries with it, progress is moving too slow.

How long will the lot formerly home to Raleigh’s and Cafe Intermezzo remain empty?

About 10 months ago, the site — which housed apartments in addition to the beloved eateries — was ravaged by a fire and later demolished as a result of the damage. Since then, little progress has been made, aside from a scrapped idea to restore the restaurants under temporary structures. Plans must move more quickly.

But in order to revive business in the area, the city is presented with a tricky balancing act. On one hand, the city needs to do everything it can to ensure that construction begins as soon as possible. On the other hand, it cannot offer too many compromises to the property owners in the hopes that they will move plans forward faster. Regardless, it is the city’s responsibility to make sure reconstruction starts in a timely manner.

At the Sept. 18 Berkeley City Council meeting, Mary Lynn Kirk — the daughter of Kenneth Ent, one of the building’s owners — made a valid yet potentially troublesome request. She asked that the council waive the city’s affordable housing mitigation fee in order to alleviate a financial burden on the owners. The city needs to be cautious of agreeing to such requests — it should not set a precedent of agreeing to any concessions the building owners desire. Doing so would put the city on a slippery slope, sending a message to these and other owners that rules can be waived.

Currently, the public knows next to nothing about the status of plans for the lot. The last tangible idea was to erect temporary tent structures to allow the restaurants to resume business for a while. That idea has since been abandoned, apparently to speed up the process of constructing a new building. But what will that new building look like? When can construction start? Right now, there are more questions than answers.

This is a critical moment for Telegraph Avenue. Since the fire, some other stores in the area say their business has declined. The city has the opportunity to firmly ensure speedy development of the vacant lot, and if that happens, the business district as a whole can recover faster. Telegraph should be full of thriving storefronts, given its proximity to UC Berkeley, but its potential will not be realized until every lot is filled.

Berkeley’s chief priority for the area should be encouraging speedy development of the lot, because it goes hand-in-hand with the greater need for revitalization. Strong business must once again occupy that corner. Telegraph needs this.