Environmental Concerns Raised for Proposed Redevelopment Near Park

Photo: Residents are worried that pollution and traffic from potential redevelopment of large buildings around the Berkeley Aquatic Park will disrupt the park's natural habitats and lower its aesthetic value.
Karen Ling/Staff
Residents are worried that pollution and traffic from potential redevelopment of large buildings around the Berkeley Aquatic Park will disrupt the park's natural habitats and lower its aesthetic value.

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Proposed redevelopment near the Aquatic Park in West Berkeley has some residents concerned about the environmental and aesthetic impacts of increased industrial activity in the area.

As outlined in a 2010 Environmental Impact Report for the West Berkeley Project - a rezoning proposal seeking to facilitate diverse economic activity - potential redevelopment near the park could alter its visual character and generate increased exposure to toxic matter, odor and excessive noise, which residents worry will disturb the park's natural habitat and recreational value.

The proposed amendments to zoning ordinances - such as those changing standards for building reuse, large multi-use development and increased building height limits - would legalize the redevelopment of six under-utilized, large buildings around the park. The city's Planning Commission reviewed the EIR to evaluate the potential effects of redevelopment on the quality of life in the area and has recommended adoption of the report to the Berkeley City Council.

However, comprehensive impacts of redevelopment near the city's largest urban park - which boasts about 100 acres of land and water - have yet to be measured.

According to Dan Marks, the city's director of planning and development, the Zoning Adjustments Board will consider the environmental impact of each potential development site on an individual basis only when - and if - the amendments are approved by the council.

The zoning board would analyze the extent of "unreasonable" degradation to park access or to the existing visual character of the space for each permit it would consider granting, Marks said.

"(Until then), we would mitigate hazard in a generic, general way," he said.

As outlined in the EIR, West Berkeley currently meets most clean air standards established by the federal and state Clean Air Acts and the city's Climate Action Plan.

However, increased vehicle emissions and building energy usage associated with the project - correlating with increased employment in the area - could produce an additional 17.9 million pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent annually, according to the report.

The park's lagoon would likely absorb these toxic pollutants over time, possibly endangering native and migratory bird species.

Currently, the lagoon's tidal infrastructure - partially in place since the mid-1930s - is deteriorating and hazardously channeling a large portion of the city's runoff to the park and the San Francisco Bay, according to a 2008 study conducted by Laurel Marcus and Associates and Hydrologic Systems Inc.

Some residents worry that relaxed permit processes and zoning requirements would increase the likelihood of water contamination.

But the study proposes possible solutions to reduce the impact of urban industrial contaminants, such as increasing water circulation in the lagoon and retrofitting new and existing buildings with biofiltration facilities.

Councilmember Kriss Worthington said artificial light from redeveloped buildings, shadows from proposed 75-foot buildings and insufficient catch basins - drainage systems that capture sediment - could harm the park's ecosystem.

"There needs to be specific restrictions," he said.

One such restriction has been proposed to the City Council by environmental group Citizens for East Shore Parks, calling for "setbacks" to prohibit development within 100 feet of the park's border and mitigate hazards associated with industrial contact.

The council will continue discussion on the West Berkeley Project on March 22.


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

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