Stakeholders discuss potential impact of West Berkeley Project

Jasmany Flores/Staff
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In what was one of the most well-attended Zoning Adjustments Board meetings in the last four years, representatives of city groups and other community members met last Thursday to comment on the potential consequences of the West Berkeley Project and evaluate its draft Environmental Impact Report.

The West Berkeley Project is a plan that would modify certain regulations and zoning standards in order to promote the development of existing buildings and revise the current process for obtaining land use permits. According to ZAB commissioner John Selawsky, public comments made to the board and Landmarks Preservation Commission are a natural part of finalizing the EIR.

“This EIR is intended to enable City decision makers, public agencies and interested citizens to evaluate the broad environmental issues associated with implementation of the West Berkeley Project as currently proposed,” said the report draft.

The report listed several community concerns voiced about the project in 2009, some of which were repeated last Thursday. The report noted that there were disagreements regarding how development could hurt existing businesses and increase traffic along San Pablo Avenue, as well as whether or not to evaluate the project’s potential impact on parking.

Denny Abrams, co-creator of the Fourth Street shopping area, commented on the project’s possible traffic and parking consequences at the ZAB meeting, said ZAB chair Igor Tregub. Abrams was unavailable for comment as of press time.

Selawsky said representatives from Truitt & White Lumber Company also commented on potential traffic issues, listing frontage roads and access to the freeway as points of concern.

“There’s a lot of people that have a stake in this, that have an interest in it,” Selawsky said. “There were representatives from a whole array of organizations.”

Selawsky added that representatives of the Ohlone Indian Tribe were present as well, focusing on the project’s impact on Ohlone remains found on a construction site near the West Berkeley Shellmound in March and April of 2016.

The remains were found adjacent to 1919 Fourth St., near Spenger’s Fresh Fish Grotto. Andrew Galvan, a representative of the Ohlone tribe, was appointed as the most likely descendant and alleged that the project developer failed to follow protocol, which the city denied.

According to Selawsky, comments on the draft EIR will be accepted until Feb. 9. Once the review period ends for this draft, the comments will be compiled in the final EIR with responses.

There were, however, different proposals presented in addition to the West Berkeley Project in the draft EIR, which does not include other suggestions made by ZAB or meeting attendees.

“There could be a number of alternatives that get incorporated into the final EIR,” Selawsky said.

The draft EIR only listed three alternatives to the West Berkeley Project — the No Project Alternative, the Limited Height Alternative and the Reduced Development Alternative.

The No Project Alternative and the Limited Height Alternative consider restricting West Berkeley developments to a maximum height of 45 feet, while the Reduced Development Alternative would only allow two Master Use Permit-eligible sites to be developed during the planning period.

Tregub said staff estimated that the document containing comments with responses in the final EIR would be completed by this summer or fall.

Contact Fionce Siow at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @fioncesiow.