City Council Approves Recommendations for New Downtown Plan

City Council Members Seek to Balance Businesses', Residents' Needs, Incentivize Green Development

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In yet another step toward the much sought-after Downtown revitalization, the Berkeley City Council approved recommendations for a new plan at its Feb. 23 meeting to balance resident and developer interests in the area.

Earlier in the meeting, council members rescinded the previously approved Downtown Area Plan, which would have regulated development in the area and had been supported by the council in July 2009 by a 7-2 vote.

Council and community members have lauded the new plan's Voluntary Green Pathway Development proposal as the city's opportunity to incentivize green and socially beneficial development, and the highlight of what council members said they hope is the beginning of the end in this round of the plan's creation.

"The new feature ... opens up a new avenue," said Helen Burke, vice chair of the Northern Alameda County Group of the Sierra Club. "It pushes forward an environmental, a better, agenda."

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates said the new plan, and especially the development of the Green Pathway, will allow for additional environmental, transportation, open space and affordable housing benefits.

Because the Green Pathway will exist in conjunction with the city's Standard Development Process, developers will be able to choose whether to participate in the city's extended public benefits program in exchange for an expedited approval process, he said.

"We started thinking we can come up with a plan that would be voluntary-that we could get the things that we can't necessarily require," Bates said.

While council members have said garnering as many public benefits as possible is a priority, Julie Sinai, chief of staff to Bates, said the plan must also be feasible for developers. One of the plan's goals is to inspire business growth in the area, city officials have said.

"The thing that really needs to be looked at is when you put all these things together that you haven't strung such a heavy chain around its neck that it can't lift its head," she said. "It's a balancing act."

Although the council approved the recommendations in an 8-1 vote, many council members expressed remaining concerns about the implementation of such recommendations, which has yet to be specified. Bates said exact penalty and verification procedures will be determined as the plan cycles through city departments.

"I'm really concerned about the monitoring, the enforcement," Councilmember Max Anderson said. "It would be a shame to have a real comprehensive and beautifully articulated plan if we didn't have ways to implement it and hold people's feet to the fire as it were."

Bates and various council members cited the 9,200-signature August referendum campaign led by residents against the original plan as the impetus for the new recommendations, including the Green Pathway proposal.

"Our auspicious start resulted in a collaborative look at what's required in the Downtown," Anderson said.

The council's approved recommendations have now been referred to the city manager's office, which will respond with a more cohesive plan for the council to iron out in May or early June, Bates said.

A public hearing will be held at that time before the measure makes its way to the November ballot, he added.


Sarah Springfield covers city government. Contact her at [email protected]

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