Berkeley City Council approves 7-story zoning at Ashby, North Berkeley BART stations

photo of bart ashby
Gabriel Nuer/File
At a Thursday meeting that extended into Friday, Berkeley City Council approved zoning plans at the Ashby and North Berkeley BART stations, establishing a height limit of seven stories.

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Berkeley City Council unanimously approved proposed zoning at the Ashby and North Berkeley BART stations during a special meeting Thursday that extended into Friday, setting the building height limit at both stations to seven stories.

The meeting lasted more than six hours with a lengthy public hearing, in which residents expressed both support and concern for the proposed height and density limits as recommended to the council by the city planning commission during its April 6 meeting.

“The proposed 12-story building is transit-oriented development, which is the most effective way to fight climate change through urbanism and high density,” said Cecilia Lunaparra, incoming president of Cal Berkeley Democrats, during the meeting. “Limiting density, and therefore driving displacement, only continues the cycle of harm perpetuated for centuries against marginalized people.”

The planning commission recommended an increased height alternative to the final Environmental Impact Report, or EIR, to allow for 12-story buildings at the BART stations, which would create a maximum of 3,600 units. It also found this to be the “environmentally superior” alternative.

However, city staff recommended a maximum of seven stories and 2,400 units, consistent with both state Assembly Bill 2923’s baseline zoning standards and what many Berkeley residents advocated for at the public hearing.

“An 18-story building, and even a 12-story building, is too high for that (Ashby) community,” said displaced Berkeley resident Mildred Howard during the meeting. “Only 35% affordable housing and we have people sleeping on the street by the BART? It should be just the opposite: 35% market rate, the rest affordable housing.”

Although the council rejected the recommendation from the Planning Commission, building heights at the BART stations could still rise to 12 stories due to a state density bonus law, depending on the percentage of units set aside for low-income housing.

In addition to approving the zoning at the BART stations, the council also certified the final EIR, and approved both the Joint Provisions and Priorities and the Memorandum of Agreement between BART and the city.

“We are making a minimum commitment to 35% affordability,” said councilmember Rashi Kesarwani during the meeting. “We are really hearing the community’s call for a lot of affordable housing.”

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín noted that in the future, the city will discuss objective design standards for the housing at the BART stations, including standards for open space, building setbacks and parking.

Construction at the stations is set to begin in 2025.

“Seven stories is a huge win for housing in Berkeley,” Arreguín said at the meeting. “We can not just get more housing, dense housing near a BART station, but we can also do it in a way that fits into the character of the neighborhoods.”

Riley Cooke is a deputy news editor. Contact her at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @rrileycooke.