City Council Closes Debate Over West Berkeley Project

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In a meeting last Tuesday, the Berkeley City Council officially closed the public hearing on the contentious West Berkeley Project and began the process of amending its plan for the area, beginning with the least controversial measures.

In the fourth public hearing since Jan. 25, council members voted to certify the project's Environmental Impact Report and to amend Berkeley's General Plan - the city's outline of decision making - by way of adding changes to the West Berkeley Plan. They also voted to amend zoning laws pertaining to parking spaces and permit processes for media production uses and to expand allowable uses of specific industrial spaces.

Changes related to protected space and master use permits, which allow for large scale development over a long period of time and are among the more controversial aspects of the project, were not discussed at the meeting.

The council also asked the Planning Commission to review the permit requirements for arts and crafts uses in the district. One suggestion to ease the process involved replacing the lengthy permit process with the ability to apply for a zoning certificate for those purposes.

The commission has been working on the West Berkeley Project since 2007, when the city decided to expand upon its existing West Berkeley Plan to encourage new business growth in the area by easing the permit process.

Although the discussion was comprehensive, debate over parking was a key issue for residents, business owners and council members at the meeting. Any modification to parking requirements would require review by the commission, according to Dan Marks, the city's director of planning and development.

Aimee Wells - a homeowner and small business owner in West Berkeley - voiced concern over parking provisions in the current zoning code, which would require her 1,000-square-foot office to have three designated off-street parking spaces. She urged council members to allow for parking waivers in special cases such as her own.

"I believe my business to be neighborhood-serving," Wells said at the meeting. "I would like to participate in revitalizing the area, but the way the current zoning code is written, I cannot."

Other issues with the overall plan were raised by Councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Jesse Arreguin, who voted against several of the proposals. Both cited concerns that the process was rushed and said more public comment should be taken into account before moving forward.

There was also some confusion as to what portion of the EIR had been approved, although City Attorney Zach Cowan said the entire EIR was passed with respect to the night's agenda items.

"I think the process was terrible," Arreguin said. "The mayor was just rushing the issue through, and many council members didn't know what they were voting on."

At Tuesday night's meeting - the last before the council's spring recess - the council will adopt a second reading of the zoning amendments discussed last Tuesday.


Contact Adelyn Baxter at [email protected]

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