City Council approves contentious Downtown development

Kevin Cheung/Staff

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Berkeley City Council approved a contentious Downtown building project Tuesday evening at a special meeting after nearly three years of deliberation between city entities and developers.

The council certified the project’s environmental impact report and structural alteration permits, and it approved the use permit of 2211 Harold Way, a 302-unit, 18-story mixed-use development following eight appeals on the decisions made by the city Landmarks Preservation Commission and the Zoning Adjustments Board that originally approved the permits.

The building — located one block away from the Downtown Berkeley BART station — is set to include nearly 11,000 square feet of ground commercial space, as well as a 10-theater cinema complex. Additionally, the building will replace several existing businesses, most notably Shattuck Cinemas and Habitot Children’s Museum.

According to Ava Kelly, an Oakland resident who sits on the board of Habitot, though financial support has been offered by developers through a community benefits agreement with the city, the city will not be providing similar financial support.

“The cost to relocate is astronomical,” Kelly said. “Everyday you wait, it’s getting more and more expensive for us and it’s getting very hard for us to exist.”

The eight appeals, filed by six Berkeley residents and the project’s developers, were heard at the meeting.

The Berkeley Unified School District, however, withdrew its original appeal Monday night at a special board meeting. According to Mark Coplan, BUSD spokesperson, the board had “heard enough in previous closed and public sessions” to make its decision.

Representatives of the school district met with developers Nov. 20 to develop an agreement between the two parties. At the BUSD meeting, the board approved certain compromises — including those that would abate noise and equipment staging during construction — that developers will provide to the school district.

Berkeley resident Kelly Hammargren, who filed two of the appeals, called for a preservation of historic landmarks in the Downtown area during the meeting’s public comment. She noted that the project would remove certain buildings that have already existed for years, such as Shattuck Cinemas.

John Caner, CEO of the Downtown Berkeley Association, however, spoke in support of the project, adding that it would add “vibrancy” to the Downtown landscape. He noted that in 2014, 74 percent of city voters approved the revised Downtown Area Plan, which aims to increase economic development and community engagement. The 2211 Harold Way project, Caner said, would contribute to the plan.

Around midnight, the council voted to approve the necessary permits. As a concession for the project’s approval, developers must pay $17 million in community benefits.

The City Council will reconvene Dec. 15 for its final meeting before the council’s winter recess.

Contact Pamela Larson and Adrienne Shih at [email protected].