Planned 18-story building receives vociferous public comment

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Members of the Zoning Adjustments Board discussed a new multiuse project planned for Downtown Berkeley at a meeting Thursday, amid criticism of the building’s height, appearance and encroachment on nearby businesses.

Located at 2211 Harold Way, the project, if approved, would require Shattuck Cinemas, as well as portions of the Shattuck Hotel building and a space which currently houses a children’s museum, to be demolished. The building would offer 302 apartment units, including 27 reserved for low-income tenants, as well as retail space and a six-theater cinema.

After a large number of residents testified at Thursday’s meeting, the window to submit comments about the project’s environmental impact report was extended to Dec. 1. The building drew criticism for its proposed 18-story height because it would, from a specific vantage point, partially obstruct the view across the San Francisco Bay from the steps of the Campanile.

But according to Emily Marthinsen, the campus assistant vice chancellor for physical and environmental planning, the new project doesn’t appear to block much of the view.

“There’s a lot of wonderful views from the campus,” she said. “It’s going to be terrific to be able to see over the years the development of a wonderful Downtown skyline in Berkeley.”

The project would also force the relocation of Habitot, a children’s museum on the building site. Founder Gina Moreland said while the museum has been seeking an alternative home, its owners had invested heavily in its current location.

She asked the Harold Way project’s builders to compensate them for the move but said they have not responded.

“Habitot is not just an office that can very quickly pick up and move to a different location,” Moreland said.

Another point of contention was the demolition of Shattuck Cinemas. John Caner, CEO of the Downtown Berkeley Association, said the initial version of the proposed building didn’t include the addition of replacement theaters and was therefore met with protest from the community. After their inclusion, though, he praised the project.

“The current cinemas are not all that viable — they’re outdated,” he said. “We’re delighted that they’re bringing back the cinemas, and they will be state of the art and can serve the public for a long time.”

Moni Law, a Berkeley resident and UC Berkeley alumnus from the class of 1982, said that Shattuck Cinemas would be a permanent loss and that a better development would attempt to retain as much of the original structure as possible.

Law added the building would disrupt Downtown’s historic atmosphere and poorly allocated low-income units.

The building’s environmental impact report, the draft of which was addressed at the zoning board’s meeting, will receive further comments from members of the board and the public before the report can be certified.

G. Haley Massara covers city news. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @BylineGraph.