Underhill Area Faces New Developments

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LOS ANGELES - After a long battle between the city of Berkeley and the university, the 13 members of the UC Board of Regents yesterday gave the go-ahead to the Underhill Area Plan.

Members of the Committee on Grounds and Buildings unanimously approved the plan, which will increase student housing, parking and office space on the current lot.

Despite a history of protests surrounding the controversial development, the regents voted to approve the current plan over criticism from students and community members who said it provides too many parking spaces instead of beds for students.

"The difficulty we face with this project is that it really is a multifaceted project where we are trying to balance a number of very substantial needs," said UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Berdahl. "Obviously the need for housing is a very real need on the Berkeley campus."

But with two-thirds of UC Berkeley's faculty and staff living outside of Berkeley, Berdahl said parking concerns are also a major issue the university must consider.

"The parking needs are really very, very real," he said. "As real for faculty and staff as housing issues are for students."

The regents certified the Final Environmental Impact Report for the project and took action to approve the designs of the new dining facilities to be located in the old parking lot and student housing that will be built at the corner of College and Durant avenues.

The approved new central dining facility provides 800 seats to replace the dining commons at Units 1 and 2, which are rated as seismically poor.

The new facility will occupy the eastern third of the Underhill Parking Lot and also provide more than 46,000 square feet of office space for Housing and Dining and Child Care Services staff.

"As we have studied this, we decided that it is far better to replace these facilities than retrofit them simply because they are inefficient and they are no longer a type or form of food service that the students find particularly attractive," Berdahl said.

The College-Durant student housing, which will replace another parking lot, will house 120 undergraduate students in apartment-style complexes.

Located on another area the plan affects, Fox Cottage received city-wide attention this fall when it was declared a city landmark in an attempt to prevent the 70-year-old structure from being torn down. The regents approved a plan that will relocate the landmark, currently residing at 2612 Channing Way, to a parking lot near the Shorb House at 2547 Channing Way.

While the university eliminated the possibility of building housing on the Underhill lot, officials said they are actively searching for alternative places to house students.

"We're concerned that the saturation of students (living on the Southside) is so great that the quality of life is going to deteriorate and in essence, we'll create a student ghetto," said Ed Denton, vice chancellor of capital projects. "(Not building housing on the Underhill lot) doesn't mean that we're going to stop building student housing - we're going to build student housing in other locations."

Many people said they felt that with the opportunity to force UC Berkeley to build more housing and less parking, the regents dropped the ball.

"It is the responsibility of the University of California to make sure that our students can live close to campus and take full advantage of the college experience," said ASUC External Vice President Nick Papas. "We had a fantastic opportunity to. We could build a tremendous amount of housing on this site - instead, we're building parking."

Regent Ward Connerly said he supported the project and would like to see it put into action soon. He voiced concern, however, about the message the regents were sending to students with their decision.

"There is a perception among many of our students that we're not giving (the housing issue) the level of attention and priority that it merits," he said. "I think we need to become more assertive about it, and we need to communicate to our students that we sense this and know it's a problem. Whatever is required, we need to demonstrate that we know this is a problem because there is a feeling among our students and many of their parents that we are indifferent to their problem."

In response to protest that many Berkeley students and residents could not voice their opinions to the regents since the decision was made in Southern California, Denton said there have been more than 18 public meetings to allow the public to comment.

"I don't know of any project where we have had more options for public comment," he said.


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