The Daily Californian Online

Amendment may better climate, ease relocation

By Jessica Gillotte
Daily Cal Staff Writer
Monday, May 2, 2011
Category: News > City > Business

The city of Berkeley's Planning Commission approved recommendations last week to make amendments to the city's zoning ordinance in order to make it easier for businesses to relocate or open and to improve the economic climate in the city's business districts.

Following a hearing at the commission's meeting Wednesday, the drafted recommendations for a series of amendments to the city's zoning ordinance were approved. These changes include suspending the Solano Avenue food service quota, extending city-wide evening business hours and reevaluating the types of permits businesses must obtain before opening.

At the Dec. 7 City Council meeting, Councilmembers Laurie Capitelli, Susan Wengraf and Darryl Moore co-authored a request for the city's planning department staff to identify ways to decelerate the city's continuously downward-spiraling economic environment.

The planning department staff compiled eight proposed amendments to the zoning ordinance, all of which were approved by the Planning Commission Wednesday. Minor changes were made following a public hearing and will be incorporated into the recommendations and then presented to the City Council in June.

Two of the proposed changes would lower the review level for permits that businesses must obtain before opening in the city. The three types of permits for businesses in the city, which include zoning certificates, administrative use permits and use permits issued by the city's Zoning Adjustments Board, increase respectively in the amount of time needed to be obtained.

If the city council approves the recommendations in June, businesses that will occupy a smaller lot will no longer have to apply for an administrative use permit, which can take up to two months for approval and requires an additional six-month window during which the permit is posted on the property to allow the public to appeal. Restaurants looking to utilize lots under 1,000 square feet will be able to get a zoning certificate, which can be obtained "over the counter" and relatively quickly.

Other recommendations approved by the commission include extending nighttime operating hours to 11 p.m. and 12 a.m. in neighborhood commercial districts and avenue commercial districts, respectively, and suspending the food service quota on Solano Avenue for three years - which restricts the number of businesses in one category that can exist on the avenue.

Capitelli said there were a few people in opposition to the changes at the hearing, but the majority of those present, including several members of various business districts, were in support of the amendments.

"A lot of businesses come to Berkeley that have wanted to open in Berkeley and have found the permitting process so difficult that they move elsewhere," she said. "We wanted to make it easier for business to open, particularly those that are locally owned and operated."

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