Downtown Area Plan Proposes New Building Height Restriction

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Building height restrictions towered over all other concerns Wednesday as the Downtown Area Plan returned to the Berkeley Planning Commission in its most recent form.

Though Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates sought to appease both developers and community members by strengthening building height restrictions and proposing a "Green Pathway" plan-which would simplify city processes for developers in exchange for additional community benefits-commissioners must still evaluate whether the plan is economically feasible.

The plan's newest restrictions on building heights most notably included reducing the maximum allowable height from 180 to 165 feet. Due to this restriction, no building in the area would be taller than the Wells Fargo building on Shattuck Ave and Center Street.

"Knowing (that buildings) are not going to be any taller than anything else we have Downtown makes people more comfortable with the idea of tall buildings," said David Stoloff, chair of the commission.

Despite these attempts to cater to the public, members of the commission and the Downtown Berkeley Association said development may not be economically feasible for a building at 165 feet.

"I'm surprised and concerned about the change (from) 180 feet to 165 feet," said John Caner, executive director of the association. "I'm concerned about the costs and time of doing business in Berkeley."

According to Commissioner Teresa Clarke, the allowable height reductions could cause a jump in costs for developers that might discourage business in the city.

Developers would not be able to justify building a high-rise at 165 feet because potential revenue would not offset the high costs of increased safety standards, she said. Buildings 180 feet tall would be the minimum to cover this cost, Clarke said.

Clarke also said that the plan, while more than 100 pages shorter than its predecessor, is still missing the clarity needed for voter accessibility.

"There needs to be a simple brochure that's easy to read for everyone that can communicate the plan in a concise fashion," she said.

This version of the plan also lacks implementation measures, Stoloff said, which would necessitate changes to zoning laws if it is approved by voters in November. He added that this process could take more than a year.


Contact Daniel Means at [email protected]

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