Berkeley’s Zoning Adjustments Board approves use permits for contentious 18-story project

Karin Goh/Staff

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The Zoning Adjustments Board voted to approve a contentious 18-story mixed-use building at a special meeting Wednesday night, providing the developers with the required use permits to begin construction amid ongoing community concerns.

After more than 30 public meetings, the 2211 Harold Way development passed with a 6-3 vote on the condition that the project provide at least $14.5 million worth of community benefits beyond the legally required payments to the city. Community benefits include a union labor agreement and money allocated to affordable housing, as well as a 10-theater cinema and an arts and culture fund.

Since first being presented in 2012, the project has sparked debate over the need for affordable housing, the demolition of portions of the landmarked Shattuck Hotel, the building’s unprecedented height and the forced relocation of Habitot Children’s Museum.

“(It’s the) most massive project in Berkeley right now, and for me, it’s the human scale that is missing,” said Berkeley resident Linda Harris. “The community really deserves to get the maximum level of community benefits.”

ZAB staff announced their recommendation to approve an updated version of the project before changes were made at the meeting, presented by Mark Rhoades, the project representative. More than 100 people attended the meeting, with more than 80 speakers present during public comment.

“This building has been modified and adjusted,” said ZAB member Richard Christiani at the meeting. “We actually have a developer who’s been with the process to move it in the direction (the community is) leaning, and so the final design has incorporated a lot of (the community’s) concerns.”

The community benefits package includes a union project labor agreement valued at $5 million, additional affordable housing funds valued at $4.5 million, the construction of a 10-cinema theater credited in value at $4 million and $1 million toward an arts and culture fund from which Habitot would be eligible to receive money.

While there was a motion by ZAB member Igor Tregub to approve a community benefits plan that gave $6 million to the project labor agreement, $6.4 million to affordable housing and more than $1 million in credit toward the theater — with $1 million to be paid in a mitigation fee for Habitot — the action failed.

ZAB member Shoshana O’Keefe noted affordable housing and living wage jobs as fundamental considerations for the board.

“I want this project’s community benefits to reflect Berkeley values,” O’Keefe said at the meeting. “The city created this money that’s going to be made by the developer by zoning. We are entitled to some portion of that back for our people.”

Public comments included statements both in support of and opposition to the project. Many addressed the historic significance of Shattuck Cinemas and the size of the development, while others noted Berkeley’s history of progressivism and the project’s sustainability as reasons to approve the plan.

Downtown Berkeley Association CEO John Caner said at the meeting that it was “unconscionable” to not approve the project, noting the need to alleviate the acute housing shortage in the Bay Area.

“We need to build housing for all housing segments, or housing will continue to go through the roof,” Caner said.

Community members also expressed concern about the consequences of nearby construction on air quality, noise and traffic near Berkeley High School.

The board approved several significant changes to the originally proposed benefits package. Additionally, the city requires that developers give $6 million to the Berkeley Housing Trust Fund in lieu of designating 10 percent of units for affordable on-site housing.

“You’re asking us to make trade-offs,” Rhoades said. “You can devalue the theater all you want in the discussion — it still costs money to provide, and if we can’t do that in an economically feasible way for the project, then something has to give.”

While Rhoades said no determination has been made on whether to appeal the ZAB decision, he said after the meeting that he believes the required amount is an overreach of the prospective cash payment the project can bear when compared with the feasibility prospective.

Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks and Amelia Mineiro at [email protected].