City Council Discusses Merits of Development Cap in West Berkeley

Photo: The Berkeley City Council discusses West Berkeley zoning in its Tuesday meeting. The council approved a controversial amendment to proposed zoning ordinances in West Berkeley.
Rashad Sisemore/Photo
The Berkeley City Council discusses West Berkeley zoning in its Tuesday meeting. The council approved a controversial amendment to proposed zoning ordinances in West Berkeley.

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By approving a controversial amendment to proposed zoning ordinances in West Berkeley, the Berkeley City Council took its first step toward revamping business activity in the area at its meeting Tuesday night, though some council members voiced concern about sustaining the area's existing economic landscape.

During its third public hearing on the city Planning Commission's proposed changes to zoning under the West Berkeley Plan, the council advanced establishing a no-cap policy on conversion of protected warehouse and wholesale space for research and development use in the area by modifying a contentious proposal that has been under consideration since 2007.

After more than three hours of public comment, the council decided in a 5-4 vote to solicit a report from the commission analyzing usage patterns when 100,000 square feet of protected space is redeveloped in the area - and if development reaches this mark, the council may consider instituting a cap. The council will vote on the changed language March 22 as part of proposed zoning amendments for the West Berkeley Plan.

Councilmembers Max Anderson, Jesse Arreguin, Linda Maio and Kriss Worthington were in favor of initially capping allowable space conversion at 100,000 square feet and then monitoring usage of protected spaces and further allocating it based on demand.

But Councilmember Susan Wengraf said a cap on convertible space would deter potential businesses from coming to the area, adding that certain spaces, such as those for recycling centers, would remain protected under any new plan.

The West Berkeley Plan - established in 1993 to ensure economic diversity in the area - currently protects manufacturing, warehouse, wholesaling and artist activities. However, the Planning Commission's rezoning proposal seeks to attract innovative UC Berkeley spin-offs by expanding master use sites and uses of protected spaces, relaxing permit processes and increasing height limits.

While the council supports economic development, some council members fear that rapid change may hinder small local businesses' viability.

Arreguin called the language change in the proposal "unnecessary" and foreshadowed a citizen referendum if the council neglects public opinion.

"Allowing space for research and development while having controls in place ... they're not mutually exclusive," Arreguin said.

Even Mayor Tom Bates, who voted in support of the language change, said the council may have "jumped the gun" at Tuesday's meeting - but added that opposing council members voiced "unfounded concern."

"It's not like it's going to happen overnight," Bates said. "If (rapid change) were to occur, we can easily do a moratorium and stop it ... I have more faith in the people who are elected."


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

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