Public Discourse Sparked By West Berkeley Zoning

Photo: Rick Auerbach speaks on proposed changes to zoning in West Berkeley, which he does not support. Small business owners that would be negatively impacted by the changes stand behind Auerbach.
Christopher McDermut/Photo
Rick Auerbach speaks on proposed changes to zoning in West Berkeley, which he does not support. Small business owners that would be negatively impacted by the changes stand behind Auerbach.

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At the Berkeley City Council's second public hearing on proposed zoning amendments to the West Berkeley Plan Tuesday, recommendations supporting large site development, warehouse re-use and increased building height limits proved most controversial.

In a follow-up to the Jan. 25 public hearing, more than 50 community members voiced concern and support for proposed amendments to zoning ordinances originally put forth by the city's Planning Commission in 2007. The commission hopes to attract research and development businesses by eliminating conservative land use regulations established by the plan in 1993.

"Our zoning process is so byzantine," West Berkeley resident Christine Staples said at the meeting. "I fear that we are well on our way of becoming a hippie historical theme park."

If adopted, the recommendations would legalize the conversion and expanded use of warehouse and wholesale space - a subset of which the commission called "dead storage" - to provide low rent infrastructure for offices in the research and development sector.

"That's the flexibility," Michael Caplan, the city's economic development manager, said at the meeting. "Businesses grow and change pretty quickly. Being able to accommodate a range of sizes and types is important for the whole ecosystem."

Whereas 25 percent of unprotected warehouse space is currently available for research and development, the commission seeks to expand the sector into 2.3 million square feet of additional warehouse space, according to Councilmember Linda Maio.

However, when probed by Maio - whose district encompasses West Berkeley - the commission could not provide information on potential demand for the converted space. The commission is expected to return with its findings.

Speakers also expressed concern that an increase in building height limits from 45 to 75 feet would diminish the city's skyline, but research and development employees argued for extended vertical space for their equipment.

And while ardent proponents and supporters of the resolution disagree on the plan's physical and economic scope, both artisan and research communities find common ground in respect for the unique economic and residential diversity of West Berkeley.

"Research and development, jobs - that sounds great," local glass blower Lee Miltier said at the meeting. "(Growth) is inevitable, but let's not make it cancer."

Artisan protections in the form of controlled rent and a proposed community benefits fund would recycle permit fees into the community in exchange for jobs and efficient shuttle programs created by new businesses.

At the meeting, Mayor Tom Bates acknowledged the "slow and deliberate" nature of the discussion, while other council members noted that any final decision would require further deliberation, refined definitions and continuous community participation.

The council will hold its third public hearing on Feb. 22.

Tags: WEST BERKELEY, BERKELEY CITY COUNCIL, TOM BATES, WEST BERKELEY PLAN, LINDA MAIO, WEST BERKELEY PROJECT, PLANNING COMMISSION


Yousur Alhlou covers city government. Contact her at [email protected]



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