A little more than two years ago, Berkeley voters overwhelmingly approved a plan to add tall buildings and thousands of residents to the city's downtown core. And in 2013, voters will find out if the city intends to go forward with that plan as it considers a proposal to build a 180-foot-tall residential tower next to the Shattuck Hotel. The eco-friendly development, featuring 355 residential units, would be the first high-rise built in Berkeley in forty years.
"It's going to test the commitment of the city council to what voters approved," said Mark Rhoades, a consultant who is working on the proposed high-rise. "It's going to test a lot of people's resolve as to what they said they wanted for downtown."
In November 2010, 64 percent of Berkeley voters approved Measure R, a proposal to revitalize downtown with transit-oriented development. Measure R was backed by environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, Greenbelt Alliance, and League of Conservation Voters, because it sought to spur urban density and thus curb greenhouse-gas emissions by lessening the need for suburban sprawl. The resulting downtown plan called for three new high-rises of up to 180 feet in height. If green-lighted by the city, the proposed development, known as The Residences at Berkeley Plaza, would be the first of the high-rises envisioned by Measure R.
However, The Residences, which would surround the Shattuck Hotel, would not be one large building. Instead, the development would be about 60 feet tall near the street, and would then scale higher to about 120 feet as it steps back from the street, before reaching the single 180-foot tower. The development would be built in the block between Shattuck Avenue and Harold Way. The developers are going for a LEED Gold rating for eco-sustainability, and 10 percent of the units would be affordable housing. There would be an underground parking garage; free transit passes for residents and building employees; a large storage facility for bicycles; and a publicly accessible plaza.
However, the developers have decided not to pursue the so-called "green pathway" envisioned in Measure R — a plan that would fast-track downtown development that is environmentally sustainable, said Rhoades, a former city planning manager who recently started his own consulting business, Rhoades Planning Group, and won city approval in December for a large downtown development known as Acheson Commons. Anti-growth activists sued to block the green pathway from being implemented. City Attorney Zach Cowan said the next court hearing in the case is scheduled for February 19.
This article was originally published by the East Bay Express on January 9, 2013.