Downtown Area Plan takes steps forward

Planning Commission will hold public hearing to get feedback about the latest draft of plan

Photo: Downtown Berkeley revitalization is moving forward as the city's Planning Commission will have a hearing next month to discuss the newest version of the Downtown Area Plan.
Michael Restrepo/Staff
Downtown Berkeley revitalization is moving forward as the city's Planning Commission will have a hearing next month to discuss the newest version of the Downtown Area Plan.


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Years of planning, a referendum campaign and ballot initiative later, the most recent reincarnation of the perennially contentious Downtown Area Plan is currently under review by the city's Planning Commission and may be headed to the Berkeley City Council this year, though the sought-after revitalization for the area may still be a long time coming.

After six years of working to redraft the city's plan governing development in the area, the Planning Commission will hold a public hearing for the latest version - based on voter-approved Measure R goals and many components of the highly contentious 2009 version that inspired a referendum campaign that August after its approval by the City Council - next month.

This version of the plan restricts allowable building heights in the Downtown, with exceptions for five tall buildings, and encourages transit-centered and green development in the area per Measure R, which was approved by a solid majority of 64 percent of Berkeley voters last November.

According to Matt Taecker, principal planner for the Downtown, this version of the plan could be sent to the council for discussion and possible approval early this fall, though minor revisions may still be made to the draft by the commission following the public hearing May 18.

Though Measure R itself was a contentious issue for the council last year - with Councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Jesse Arreguin arguing that the measure failed to provide clear direction to city staff and officials and referring to it as a plan to have a plan - commissioner Jim Novosel said it allowed the commission to better gauge community members' priorities for the area, including limiting buildings to 60 feet for most of the area.

The measure also allows two residential buildings and one hotel to be built at heights up to 180 feet, while an additional two office spaces can be as tall as 120 feet.

"We've got the mandate from the citizens," Novosel said. "We cannot get a better situation for planning. Our direction is as clear as the sky."

But according to Arreguin, whose district includes the Downtown, this draft is not in alignment with voters' direction to the city.

"If you look at the ballot arguments at Measure R, it just made these claims that it would do these things," Arreguin said. "My issue with the draft plan that's been written by staff is that it doesn't follow through with the components of Measure R that were promised."

He added that he feels that the draft does not require enforceable community benefits, expand affordable housing opportunities in the Downtown or protect the neighborhood's diversity or quality of life and that the plan will continue to be contentious until it addresses these issues.

Arreguin said he will be putting forward amendments to achieve these goals of a greener and more progressive plan and will also suggest alternative language in the draft once it reaches the council.

"We shouldn't have a plan that doesn't represent what the community as a whole wants for the Downtown," he said.

Tags: BERKELEY CITY COUNCIL, DOWNTOWN AREA PLAN, JESSE ARREGUIN, JIM NOVOSEL, MEASURE R, PLANNING COMMISSION


Contact Weiru at [email protected]



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