Council Moves Forward with Zoning Amendments to West Berkeley Plan

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A week after concluding the public hearing for the West Berkeley Project, the Berkeley City Council began its second round of discussion on the more controversial proposed amendments in the West Berkeley Plan.

At its meeting Tuesday night, the council provided guidelines for amendments to zoning ordinances regarding the conversion of protected space in specific zoning districts in West Berkeley.

Protected spaces are those reserved for manufacturing, wholesale, warehouse and material recovery activities. The proposed amendment would permit arts and crafts, contractors and warehouse non-store retail to locate into current protected spaces.

By expanding arts and crafts activity into protected spaces, the city hopes to assuage some residents' fears that West Berkeley's artisan atmosphere would be changed by development. However, many artisans are still concerned that development - if too rapid - will result in higher rent because of demand.

A more controversial amendment, already adopted by the council on March 22, permits the conversion of warehouse and wholesale spaces for research and development facilities in only two of the protected spaces.

The council also voted to rescind a controversial Feb. 22 motion requiring the city's Planning Commission to report on patterns of use in protected spaces after 100,000 square feet have been redeveloped from warehouse or wholesale to research and development use. The city hopes to monitor the rate of redevelopment to protect the area against drastic change.

The council will vote on a new proposal May 31 to solicit an annual report and a report when 50,000 square feet is redeveloped.

Though the new motion will require more frequent analysis, Councilmembers Jesse Arreguin and Kriss Worthington again called for a conversion cap and argued that reports have no "legal power."

Currently, there are no limits to the conversion of wholesale and warehouse space into research and development facilities in the two specific zoning districts.

"We are fooling ourselves and we are fooling the public to think that establishing a requirement that a report be provided in any way will stop the rate of conversion of protected space in West Berkeley," Arreguin said at the meeting. "It does nothing to stop it from happening."

Councilmember Linda Maio supported the idea of a cap and added that a limit would be a "careful approach" to strike a balance between the needs the existing West Berkeley business community and potential research and development companies.

But Councilmember Susan Wengraf argued that a cap would deter technology and green research companies from locating in the area. Similarly, Councilmembers Darryl Moore and Gordon Wozniak said their primary goal was to spur job creation in the area and that a cap was unnecessary as long as the city proceeded with "reasonable caution."

"Everyone's conjuring up nightmares," Wozniak said. "We can have a moratorium if suddenly there's a land rush."


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

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