Berkeley’s Planning Commission talks potential increase in off-campus housing

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Berkeley’s Planning Commission discussed opportunities Wednesday night to increase housing on the student-dense Telegraph Avenue.

The commission discussed a referral that was brought to Berkeley City Council in June by Zachary Trevino, campus senior and commissioner, and Councilmember Kriss Worthington. The referral called for changes in a city zoning ordinance that would increase the ratio of floors in a building per square footage of area in the Telegraph commercial district between Dwight and Bancroft ways, allowing for more housing units to be built.

Commissioner Gene Poschman, who also serves on a subcommittee that recommends priorities to the commission, expressed concern that the issue was brought up after the subcommittee deprioritized the issue.

“We brought it back up because hundreds of people attended meetings … (and) asked to facilitate more housing,” said Worthington, who reprioritized the issue for the committee.

In light of UC President Janet Napolitano’s October announcement to increase universitywide enrollment, housing for students is in high demand, now more than ever, said real estate developer William Schrader. Approximately 27 percent of the undergraduate population lives in campus housing. The rest of the students pursue off-campus housing opportunities that many consider competitive.

Trevino and several residents told anecdotes about students — unable to find affordable housing — living in cars and friends’ apartments. Some residents expressed concerns that students would not be able to receive a proper education and have a space to study if they were packed together in apartments above recommended occupancy limits and not able to find proper housing.

“We have a responsibility to students to make sure they learn,” said Deborah Matthews, vice chair of the committee.

Several residents said they were concerned with students living on Southside, citing the massive gatherings Saturday night that led to three arrests and one case of property damage. They feared increasing student density close to the border of Southside would be harmful to families living nearby.

Other residents argued that increasing density on Southside would increase pedestrian presence in the area, which would make communities safer.

The commission agreed to not pursue more housing units in the areas of mainly two-story housing occupied largely by nonstudent residents south of Dwight Way.

“We are not trying to change anything below Dwight,” Worthington said. “(The students) want more housing close to campus. (Nonstudent residents) want more housing close to campus (for students).”

According to principal planner Alex Amoroso, the Wednesday meeting served as a “fishing expedition” to see if the committee wanted the city planning staff to explore the possibility of adding floors to residential buildings.

Amoroso said that because committee members seemed to be in favor of exploring the issue more, there will probably be two more meetings at undetermined dates before actual construction of additional housing units begins.

Contact Haruka Senju at [email protected].