City’s Zoning Adjustments Board approves proposed Downtown highrise

Matthew Taecker/Courtesy

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The Zoning Adjustments Board unanimously approved a use permit for a proposed 16-story high-rise hotel at 2129 Shattuck Ave. at its May 26 meeting.

The initial project design — which was first proposed by Taecker Planning & Design in December 2013 — called for a mixed-use building with hotel rooms, retail space and office floors. This design underwent different iterations before arriving at the current proposal that will include 334 hotel rooms, a bar and significant bicycle and car parking.

According to the board’s vice chair Igor Tregub, ZAB approved the permit because it thought the project fit well with the Downtown Area Plan and its vision to make Downtown a largely pedestrian area. The Downtown Area Plan, approved in 2012, allows for seven high-rise buildings in the Downtown area — two of which are reserved for UC Berkeley.

“It was notable that there was unanimity in the vote for a project of this magnitude,” Tregub said. “I think a big part of that is a testament to the applicant’s willingness to work with a variety of different stakeholders and respond to a number of requests to tweak certain parts of the design.”

Some residents, however, questioned whether new temporary housing alternatives would lower demand for a large-scale hotel in Berkeley.

“The way things are changing with Airbnb, we wonder if we’re going to keep this hotel filled, if it’ll be economically viable,” said Berkeley resident Kelly Hammargren.

Other residents, such as Charlene Woodcock, criticized the proposed building on aesthetic grounds, saying of the design, “you can’t call it architecture.”

According to a report submitted by the applicant, the project will bring $76.5 million in “community benefits” to the city of Berkeley, approximately $18 million of which will go beyond city requirements for a high-rise structure Downtown. The city does not have a working definition of “community benefits,” which ZAB chair Denise Pinkston pointed out during the meeting.

Should the project be appealed, City Council would get the final say as to whether the building can progress. According to Tregub, appeals must be submitted within 14 days of the notice of decision.

“If it goes to City Council and they make the decision (to approve the hotel) in July, then we would hope to see construction start this fall,” said Matt Taecker, the project’s entitlement manager and the principal of Taecker Planning & Design.

Lawrence Rinder — director of BAMPFA, a museum on the same block as the proposed hotel — expects the high-rise building to increase traffic in the museum.

“It’ll be a tremendous boost to the vitality of that block,” Rinder said during the meeting. “It’ll bring visitors to our museum and a lot of revenue to the city.”

Contact Karim Doumar at [email protected].