Design Review Committee approves 2 city developments Thursday

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The Design Review Committee approved two developments in Berkeley — including a 16-story high-rise hotel on Shattuck Avenue — and sent two other projects back to the applicants for redesigns.

At a Thursday meeting, the committee — responsible for reviewing project designs in nonresidential districts — unanimously green-lit two building designs to be sent to the Zoning Adjustments Board for review and rejected two others that did not complement their respective surroundings.

One of the rejected project plans included a major 135-unit development on a designated landmark site at 1900 Fourth St.

At the meeting, the committee approved a plan to convert a single-family home on 2817 Eighth St. into four residential condominium units, rejecting improvements to Habitot Children’s Museum’s first floor with a broad consensus that the plans were aesthetically unattractive.

“The feedback has made the (hotel) project better, but I feel it’s time to move the project on to the ZAB so we can get the project approved and move toward construction,” said John Caner, CEO of the Downtown Berkeley Association.

Caner said the hotel at 2129 Shattuck Ave. has always been a part of the Downtown Area Plan, which passed in 2012 to promote the area’s housing development, culture and art.

The hotel is “the crowned jewel of the Downtown plan,” Caner said, and will bring a vibrancy “so Center Street really becomes an amazing promenade up to campus.”

Additionally, the Transient Occupancy Tax travelers pay at hotels makes the project economically beneficial, providing a significant source of tax revenue for the city, according to Caner.

For the hotel development, the committee suggested integrating more art and increasing visually intriguing color and cornice designs.

The Fourth Street development project, with 33,000 square feet of commercial space, would be located on an Ohlone Tribe sacred burial site called the West Berkeley Shellmound, rousing possible archaeological concerns.

Andrew Galvan, who is a descendent of the Ohlone Tribe, was on site during thorough investigations into the historical significance of the location.

“We can tell you where the site is not,” Galvan said at the meeting. “We’ve dug and we’ve dug and we’ve dug — it’s not there.”

The committee, however, requested a peer review of the investigation during the meeting.

“There is a lot of data that the developers will have to produce to show that they can prove there is no shellmound beneath the parking lot,” said committee member Austene Hall in an email.

Community members were concerned about the building’s obtrusive aesthetic, limited environmentally sustainable features and potential noise and air pollution for Fourth Street residents, as the site is located near the Amtrak railroad lines and freeway overpass.

Berkeley resident Charlene Woodcock advocated for the project to be zero net-energy and said she was disturbed by the inattention to efficient water and energy usage.

“It seems to me, at all levels of government, that this country is so far from where it should be,” Woodcock said at the meeting. “It is your responsibility to make a change.”

One of Fourth Street’s original developers Denny Abrams said at the meeting that locals may not come to Fourth Street anymore if the large building is erected, adding that it lacks authenticity within the neighborhood.

“This committee has had the two most significant projects in Berkeley (tonight),” said committee chair Burton Edwards. “We really have to do this one right.”

Contact Hannah Lewis at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @hlewis_dc