Harold Way project mired in problems

Shirley Sun/Staff

All along, many of us opposing the 2211 Harold Way project, myself included, have said it is the wrong building, wrong design in the wrong place. The project, mired in omissions, misrepresentations and implausible studies would interrupt the view from Campanile Way and would sit on a liquefaction zone that runs east to west, within two school zones — approximately 400 feet from Berkeley High School, across the street from the Berkeley Central Library and Dharma College and about 200 feet from Berkeley City College. It will demolish Shattuck Cinemas, and it calls for major excavation under the landmarked 1913 addition to the Shattuck Hotel.

Shattuck Cinemas is supposed to be replaced, albeit with only one full-sized theater and nine screening rooms. Underground theater 1 is a mystery with supposedly seven rows of stadium seating in an excavation area under the 1913 Shattuck Hotel addition in a room with a ceiling height of approximately 13 feet.

The Berkeley General Plan, Downtown Area Plan and 2010 Measure R all call for diversity of income in the Downtown area. There is no affordable housing on Harold Way, and this project enjoys a special discounted in-lieu mitigation fee (the per unit fee paid by developers to avoid including affordable housing units in the building). In February 2013, just after the applications for this project were initiated, the Berkeley City Council passed a special ordinance discounting the in-lieu mitigation fee from the recommended $28,000 to $20,000 for all projects with applications completed prior to Oct. 16, 2014 and with initial project approval prior to Oct. 16, 2016.

The fee comes from what is called a NEXUS study that looks at the cost of construction, area rents, sales prices, profitability and makes recommendations for a range of fees to consider for contributions to the Housing Trust Fund and still provide reasonable profits for the developer/investors. The updated March 25, 2015 NEXUS study recommended a fee range from $34,000 to $85,000, but it wasn’t until April 5, 2016 that City Council attended to enacting raising the fee to $34,000. City Council included a $4,000 per unit discount if paid at the time of building permit application.

The report also contained the finding that a household needs to be at or above area median income (AMI) to afford renting in Berkeley. The Alameda County 2016 AMI for a household of four is $93,600, which easily explains why six students might be in a two-bedroom apartment or living with food and housing insecurity as described Sept. 2 by Anthony Carrasco in an op-ed published by The Daily Californian.

Buried in the Environmental Impact Report, or EIR, are the implausible traffic studies that were challenged by the public and not considered by the Zoning Adjustment Board, or ZAB, Design Review Committee, or DRC, or the City Council. Placement of the underground garage entrance/exit on Kittredge Street across from the Central Library was never discussed nor was the forecast that 50 percent of the cars exiting the 177-space garage would turn left into the library bottleneck instead of right toward Milvia Street, a main bike corridor and Berkeley High School. More interesting is the forecast that only seven of the 600-plus occupants will take BART during morning peak commute and six will come home during evening commute.

I have never stood at the base of Sather Tower without seeing people snapping pictures and gazing into the magnificent view of the Golden Gate Bridge. In March and April 2015, the DRC, concerned with the impact of Harold Way on the Campanile Way view, requested storey poles, balloons or some other mechanism to visually show the true building mass (a study that was never done).

Next time you go to the top of Campanile Way, walk up the stairs to the base of Sather Tower, then move to your left, catch the top of the Great Western/Chase Bank (the very top is your 180-foot marker, the Harold Way project is 194 feet) and take a picture. Then go back to the center and take another. Open the FEIR link, go to pages 351 to 358, line up your pictures and note Harold Way is likely much taller than drawn. Save your pictures, if the developers win, the building will block the rest.

Kelly Hammargren is a member of Save Shattuck Cinemas and a resident of Berkeley.

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