Protesters rally against contentious Downtown Berkeley development

Aslesha Kumar/Staff

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After Berkeley community members and residents rallied outside Berkeley City Council chambers over the possible construction of a contentious construction project, at a study session Thursday, the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board reviewed updates and discussed concerns about construction at 2211 Harold Way.

Commissioners at the meeting stressed the importance of keeping a cinema at the location of the project and focused on the potential traffic congestion problems and the obstruction of the view from Campanile Way that the structure could cause.

The 18-story mixed-use project — first presented to the city in 2012 — would demolish and alter the currently landmarked site on Kittredge Street and Harold Way adjacent to Hotel Shattuck Plaza.

On Aug. 13, the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission approved a structural alteration permit — required for construction on or near historically recognized landmark sites — for the project plan, including new changes after an environmental impact report was approved.

The project has faced continued disapproval from community members since last year. About 20 people rallied outside City Council chambers — where the session was held — against the proposed development. The protest was organized by Save Shattuck Cinemas, a group focused on preventing the demolition of the historic theater.

“It’s completely out of character for the place, and its size is gargantuan,” said Sally Nelson, a Berkeley resident and rally participant. “There are landmark buildings that are in place on the block, and they’ve all been designed with some sense of sensitivity.”

The project would contain 302 residential units and more than 10,000 square feet of commercial space, as last presented to the ZAB. As most recently reflected in a ZAB staff report, however, the development plans will now also include a 10-theater cinema and 177 underground parking spaces.

Over the course of the past two and a half years, 30 public meetings have been held regarding the proposed development, according to ZAB Secretary Shannon Allen.

“There are not that many historical sites compared to parcels in Downtown, so why would we be emphasizing density goals on a historical parcel rather than emphasizing historical preservation goals?” said ZAB Commissioner Sophie Hahn at the meeting, referring to the Downtown Area Plan passed in 2012, which aims to guide the revitalization of the area.

At the meeting, which saw about 70 people in attendance, commissioners also raised concerns about the durability and maintenance of the structure and the materials used in the project’s design.

Save Shattuck Cinemas will also host two walking tours Friday and Saturday to show the community a review of the project plans as well as the buildings that would be affected by the construction on Harold Way.

According to ZAB Vice Chair Denise Pinkston, the board will hold one more study session in two weeks, focusing on what community benefits the projects chosen could provide for the city, such as affordable housing units and labor agreements.

ZAB will take a final vote Sept. 30 on whether to approve the project, granting it the permits needed to start construction.


Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks is the lead business and economy reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ayoonhendricks.