The Berkeley Planning Commission voted to recommend 12-story zoning for Ashby and North Berkeley BART at its meeting Wednesday.
BART and the city of Berkeley have been working on this project for several years, according to BART Board President Rebecca Saltzman. She added the goal of the zoning is to provide thousands of units to be built on top of the BART station parking lots.
“It’s important to turn our parking lots into housing,” Saltzman said. “The cost of housing — especially right next to transit — has just gotten so high and it’s become unattainable for a lot of people.”
The city committed to allocate 35% of units for affordable housing but Saltzman said the board is seeking additional funding to increase that percentage.
Berkeley City Councilmember Rigel Robinson noted that building housing next to transit is the best way to combat the affordable housing shortage in Berkeley.
“Surface parking is virtually the most inefficient possible use for that land,” Robinson said in an email. “Helping Berkeleyans live right next to public transit is how we can best combat the affordable housing shortage in Berkeley as well as reduce emissions by encouraging more residents to live green, walkable lifestyles.”
Robinson added that residents should support the November ballot measure in order to raise funds for this project.
Saltzman noted that BART expects the city council to vote on the zoning ordinance in May.
Once they receive approval, they plan to begin construction immediately.
“Once the zoning is adopted, we want to move it forward as quickly as possible,” Saltzman said. “We expect to select a developer either late this year or early next year.”
While it is uncertain what type of housing technology will be adopted for this project, Saltzman said modular buildings are a possibility, which could speed up the construction process.
Saltzman noted this project is possibly one of the biggest housing developments in Berkeley right now.
“There are not a lot of available sites in Berkeley anymore, since they are mostly built out and a lot of the sites that are available are smaller,” Saltzman said.
Saltzman emphasized that the zoning project will provide housing for low-income residents and make transportation more accessible, making a positive impact in the areas surrounding the Ashby and North Berkeley BART stations.
The project would also help BART generate more revenue since residents would likely be utilizing the service more due to the close proximity of the station.
“The vast majority of people want to see the BART station used in a way that makes more sense for our current times where we’re experiencing climate change and a housing crisis,” Saltzman said. “It’s a very different time than when BART was built 50 years ago, when their priority at that time was just having parking at the station.”
This new zoning project is part of BART’s transit-oriented development policy, adopted in 2016, to build 20,000 housing units by 2040. BART is currently working on housing developments in the cities of El Cerrito and Oakland, according to Saltzman.
Saltzman also added community residents have an opportunity to influence what these projects are going to look like, including the design of the building and retail spaces nearby.
“Although I don’t live in Berkeley, the city is very important to me because I went to UC Berkeley and would love to live in Berkeley if it wasn’t expensive,” Saltzman said. “I know how much Berkeley really needs housing right next to the BART station so I’m really excited about this project.”