City Council approves second phase of West Berkeley project

Derek Remsburg/File
City council approved the West Berkeley Plan at Tuesday's meeting.

A controversial second phase of the long-standing West Berkeley Project that allows research and development businesses to occupy protected spaces was passed by the Berkeley City Council at its meeting Tuesday night.

Under newly amended guidelines, a total of 270,000 gross square feet of protected warehouse and wholesale space may be converted to research and development use within two of four zoning districts in West Berkeley. Protected spaces are those reserved for manufacturing, wholesale, warehouse and material recovery activities.

The council has been working on the project with the city’s Planning Commission since the council’s 2007 decision to encourage new business growth in the area by easing the business permit process. The project has stemmed contentious decisions from the council over the past year when providing amendments for zoning ordinances and allocation of protected spaces.

“The West Berkeley Project was to look at two things — one, should we allow more uses and two, how should we deal with these much larger sites that are 4 acres or more that offer particular opportunities and particular challenges,” said Councilmember Laurie Capitelli.  “We will be talking about things like maximum height, maximum floor ratio, public space, what kind of heights we should allow on what you might call buffer or sensitive areas.”

This decision comes after the council urged city staff in March to create a plan that would allow arts and crafts, non-store based retailers, contractors and research and development users to occupy protected spaces previously reserved for other types of use.

“About 20 years ago, West Berkeley was very focused on preserving manufacturing,” said Councilmember Susan Wengraf.  “At that time, heavy industrial manufacturing was going on — now, this type of manufacturing isn’t happening where land space is very high, and there is a lot of under utilized spaces in Berkeley.”

There are currently four different zoning districts in Berkeley that are used to allocate protected spaces including manufacturing districts, mixed-manufacturing districts, mixed use-light industrial districts and mixed-use residential districts.  At the council’s meeting Tuesday, city staff said the recent amendments to protected space regulations will create new opportunities for land and business development, as well as support existing businesses, leading to increased fees and tax revenue for the city.

“We have already agreed that we will limit (use of master use permits) to just six sites over the next 10 years,” Capitelli said.  “We haven’t yet laid out details of how sites will interface with neighborhoods surrounding them and how parking will factor in to this.”

However, the decision to allow research and development into protected spaces has not come without dissent from West Berkeley residents. John Curl, chair of the West Berkeley Artisans and Industrial Companies said the organization was concerned that not enough protected space would be left behind for prominent arts and crafts businesses.

“(The amendment) is not 100 percent what we wanted,” Curl said. “But it has some basic elements that we needed, such as the control of industrial development so there is no disastrous impact on people and the consistency of arts and crafts there.”

The project will continue to be discussed by the city council during July, when council members will discuss the protected use allocations of arts and crafts, as well as design guidelines and design standards for master use permit sites, which allow for large-scale development over a long period of time, according to Capitelli.

“My hope is that the changes will be positive in that Berkeley will be able to become a center for innovation and clean technology,” Wengraf said.

After a second reading of the amendments on July 12, the protected space allocation for research and development will take effect after 30 days.