Zoning ordinance may limit uses of Berkeley post office space

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The Berkeley main post office has been a point of contention since the Postal Service announced its intent to sell the building.

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After more than a year of discussions, protests and petitions, Berkeley community members are looking at a newly proposed zoning ordinance that may finally decide the fate of the Downtown Berkeley post office.

The ordinance would shift zoning lines to include the 99-year-old post office in the Civic Center Historic District, which includes places such as Old City Hall and Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park. The law would limit the use of areas in this district to nonprofit or government uses.

“We’re trying to work with the Planning Commission to come up with zoning that protects the whole Civic Center Historic District,” said Mike Lonergan, a member of the Save the Berkeley Post Office organization. “If the building’s going to be repurposed, we’d want it to have some public use.”

Lonergan mentioned that if the U.S. Postal Service sells the post office, the space could be used for profit through businesses such as an upscale restaurant or a hotel.

“We see this as a bigger issue of privatization,” said Moni Law, a UC Berkeley alumna and another member of Save the Berkeley Post Office.

She also expressed concerns about the effects of downsizing, which she said would result in eliminating a number of post office employee positions. Law said the Postal Service is one of the largest employers in the country. The Postal Service employed more than 500,000 career employees as of January 2013, according to its website.

The Postal Service has not yet set up an official sale of the post office space, but its representatives argued against the zoning proposal at the last Berkeley Planning Commission meeting.

“The citizens of Berkeley have shown they have positive and constructive ideas to offer to the postal office,” said Igor Tregub, a Zoning Adjustments Board commissioner. “The postal office would ignore these ideas at their own peril.”

The Downtown Berkeley Association does not support the zoning ordinance. John Caner, CEO of the association, said that while “it’s important to keep the building open to the public,” the association does not want to limit future uses of the facilities to only nonprofit or government uses. He referenced the San Francisco Ferry Building as an example of a historic space being used for public, for-profit purposes.

“Our concern is that we don’t want to preclude something that could be a private partnership, something that could be a marketplace,” Caner said.

The Berkeley Planning Commission will hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. on Oct. 2 at the North Berkeley Senior Center to further examine the issue.

“I would welcome any discussion that would lead toward a win-win outcome, whatever form that discussion might take,” Tregub said. “This is an issue that has seen almost unprecedented cohesion in members of the community.”

Tara Hurley covers city news. Contact her at [email protected].