City Council determines significant community benefits for Downtown high-rises

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Sierra Brown/Staff

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Berkeley City Council passed an amended resolution Tuesday that will advise the Zoning Adjustments Board on determining significant community benefits from Downtown high-rises that were proposed under a development plan approved in 2012.

Under the resolution, the developers will choose to provide specific benefits — such as labor agreements and affordable units — or pay an equivalent fee, or to pay a per-square-footage flat fee to the city’s general fund.

For developers opting to provide specific benefits, the framework was amended to clarify that 60 percent of the benefits’ value should go toward affordable housing units and that 40 percent should go toward listed categories, which include arts and culture, public space and sustainable development.

Councilmember Lori Droste said the adopted framework is a “huge victory for the community” to achieve various benefits and to ensure financial feasibility of the projects through evaluation by city-hired consultants — originally part of Councilmember Jesse Arreguin’s proposal.

“It is the the most progressive community benefit package in the East Bay,” Droste said.

At a ZAB meeting in February, board members asked the council to create a framework for “significant community benefits” on top of the existing requirements for new developments more than 75 feet tall.

The board was in the process of reviewing a proposal for an 18-story hotel at 2129 Shattuck Ave. and the benefit package proposed by the developers of the 18-story project at 2211 Harold Way. Both are among the five high-rises that are part of the Downtown Area Plan.

The Harold Way project was exempted from the system laid out in the resolution. The city will instead impose a flat square-footage fee on the 302 residential units of the building. The fees are assessed at $100 per square foot for buildings between 75 and 120 feet tall and $150 for those that are 121 feet or taller. City staff reassessed these fees at a special meeting June 25.

Councilmember Kriss Worthington said it was “morally reprehensible” for the council to approve what he said were millions of dollars in fee reductions for a single project.

According to Mark Rhoades, former city planning manager and consultant for 2211 Harold Way, the project’s benefits package will include the employment of union labor, the provision of movie theaters and the depositing of more than $6 million into the city’s trust fund for affordable housing.

It would have been “preposterous” for the project, which has been in the permit process for more than two years, to start over, Rhoades said.

Berkeley’s existing ordinance requires developers to provide 10 percent on-site affordable housing units or pay a $20,000 mitigation fee to the city’s housing trust fund for affordable housing. According to Droste, it is “a higher requirement” compared with that of other cities in the East Bay, such as Oakland.

Worthington said that the council should have prioritized affordable housing and that he would have preferred at least 10 percent affordable housing units or an equivalent fee deposited into the city’s housing trust fund.

Contact Yuka Koshino at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @YukaKoshino.