The Berkeley City Council is set to vote tomorrow night on a revised Downtown Area Plan that has been (*cough*) seven years in the making. Such long-range planning initiatives tend to come with a fair bit of controversy, contention, and vociferous public input, and this one was no exception an active gang of folks got a ballot initiative passed back in 2010 to rescind a previous version of the plan that had already been approved by the council, and so this is a re-re-revision with some scaled-back development options, but it still includes the potential for three new high-rise buildings of up to fifteen stories, as well as some mid-rise zoning for buildings up to 120 feet, or about ten stories both of which represent a significant variance in the average heights of the downtown, which is currently dominated by only two tall-ish towers: the Powerbar building, and the more historic Wells Fargo building.
Just like in San Francisco, nobody over there is a fan of tall buildings despite the fact that more density next to transit is better for the environment, and Berkeley is nothing if not environment-conscious. Two of the seven new tall buildings (down from nine that were in the rescinded 2009 plan) will be reserved for UC Berkeley, and the five others will have to show “significant community benefits beyond what is otherwise required,” and provide affordable housing, be LEED Gold certified, add open space, etc.
The scene at council meetings has of course been amusing throughout the public comment period, including an appearance last week by one Zelda Bronstein, who "took the microphone wearing an outsized pair of green-tinted spectacles, recalling that the great and powerful Oz had forced his citizens to wear such glasses, which was the only reason why the Emerald City was that color. 'It’s a trick, it was a trick in Emerald City, and it’s a trick here,' Bronstein said."
The new 2011 Downtown Area Plan would replace the outdated 1990 Downtown Plan, and as the planners write in the introduction, that plan had been focused, in part, on the woes of "soulless banks and fast food restaurants" that had moved in and ruined everything, and how the downtown had "never recovered" from the construction of BART, according to some.
The new plan is expected to receive majority approval at tomorrow night's meeting, though not by unanimous vote.