West Berkeley Project Introduced to Public

Project Seeks to Amend Zoning Laws, Promote Business Development, In West Berkeley Area

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Correction Appended

Following its initial September 2007 request for zoning amendments that would increase flexibility in the use of West Berkeley's industrial zoning districts, the Berkeley City Council received recommendations from the city's Planning Commission and held a public hearing at Tuesday's meeting to hear community input for further revisions.

After more than three years of formulating zoning amendments to the 1993 West Berkeley Plan, the Planning Commission's program - called the West Berkeley Project - was introduced to the City Council, aiming to develop large multi-parcel land sites, encourage new types of industrial activities and support current businesses in the West Berkeley area.

Dan Marks, the city's director of planning and development, said the West Berkeley Project will "make it easier for many businesses to locate and expand there over time" and that it will also enable the city to receive benefits "in exchange for granting more development opportunity" to businesses looking to relocate in the area.

The proposed zoning amendments would primarily affect the three industrial zoning districts in West Berkeley and would allow for the expansion and reuse of buildings and businesses in the area. This would be achieved by clarifying the sometimes muddy language in the Zoning Ordinance, increasing the number of uses allowed in industrial districts and making the Master Use Permit process less complicated to navigate.

Businesses looking to obtain an MUP would be required to offer one or more of three benefits to the community - job training programs for their employees, protection of arts and crafts and artisan space or non-automobile related transportation improvements, such as more bicycle paths.

In exchange for these benefits, the city's MUP provisions include an increase in the maximum allowable height of buildings from 45 feet to 75 feet and will also permit taller buildings in narrower spaces.

"It really does enrich all of our commercial districts by bringing jobs to town," said John DeClercq, co-CEO of the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce. "It's very good that the arts and crafts are being protected."

Many members of the Berkeley community attended Tuesday's City Council meeting and voiced support and concerns for what the zoning amendment entails.

The discussion was centered around the prospect of granting MUPs to large businesses and authorizing land use for research and development purposes in the West Berkeley industrial districts.

Mayor Tom Bates said at the meeting he hopes that by implementing flexible permit processes, spin-offs from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory or UC Berkeley will be enticed to stay in the city and create more research and development jobs locally, instead of moving to the more business-friendly Emeryville.

The cities of Alameda and Richmond have also expressed interest in hosting the planned second campus location for the lab, bids that appear to have Berkeley officials worried.

However, some community members at the meeting were concerned that allowing research and development businesses to locate in the area would increase property values and subsequently make it more difficult for small businesses to locate and operate there.

"If you don't change, you die," Bates said at the meeting. "We need other avenues for flexibility, opportunity and innovation. We have to be real and get ahead of the curve."

The Planning Commission is expecting direction from the council following the Feb. 8 meeting, according to Marks. The next step would then be to make the appropriate findings to gain approval from the Environmental Impact Report.

Marks said the challenge was to strike a balance between making it easier for new businesses to move in while "limiting impact" and not displacing the existing businesses in the area.

"We think that the compromises are all well-handled and well-reasoned, and (the project) ought to be adopted," Declercq said.

Yousur Alhlou of The Daily Californian contributed to this report.


Correction: Monday, January 31, 2011
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the West Berkeley Plan was approved in 1998. In fact, the West Berkeley Plan was approved in 1993. The Daily Californian regrets the error.

The Daily Californian regrets the error.

Jessica Gillotte is the lead business reporter. Contact her at [email protected]

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