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Seagate Foes Challenge Zoning Approval: By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Friday November 19, 2004

Foes of the nine-story high-rise apartment—or is it condo?—and theater complex planned for Center Street filed a last-minute appeal to the City Council Wednesday afternoon seeking to block the project. 

Berkeley Senior Planner Greg Powell, who has handled the project for the city, declined to comment on the appeal Thursday. “We just got it at 4 p.m. yesterday and we haven’t had time to review it.” 

He said planning staff would prepare a response for the City Council, which would take up the hearing in January. 

“There are a number of points raised and we’ll have to see how they relate to the actions taken by the Zoning Adjustments Board,” Powell said. ZAB issued the final approvals for the project on Oct. 14.  

The Seagate Building will be the tallest new downtown structure in decades, though it’s three stories shorter than the hotel UC Berkeley wants to build just one block to the east.  

Former Planning Commission Chair Zelda Bronstein submitted the document to Mayor Tom Bates and City Councilmembers on behalf of herself and the other members of Citizens for Downtown Berkeley, a new citizens’ action group. 

Bronstein said eight members worked on the appeal. 

City officials allowed the project developer to add four floors above the maximum five allowed in the Downtown Plan because they ruled that the developer, Seagate Properties of Marin County, qualified under two sets of bonuses, one statewide and the other unique to Berkeley. 

The inclusionary bonus awards extra size for residential buildings that include units reserved for low-income tenants, and the city awards additional size for structures that include space dedicated for cultural uses. 

The Seagate project qualified for both, with the cultural space dedicated to the Berkeley Repertory Theater and a hallway art gallery. 

Bronstein’s appeal challenges the Zoning Adjustments Board’s issuance of a demolition permit for the four existing buildings on the site—2041-2067 Center St.—as well as its mitigated negative declaration and use permit for a project the group contends requires a full Environmental Impact Report. 

The ZAB approvals authorized the leveling of four existing buildings, construction of a 181,151-square-foot tower opposite the new Vista College site with 149 apartments; 5,765-square-feet of ground floor retail; 12,067 feet of cultural space, and 160 underground parking spaces in two levels. 

The project of Seagate Properties, a San Rafael development firm with real estate interest throughout the West, the structure would tower four stories above the five-floor limit specified in the city’s downtown plan. 

The opponents also laid out 12 objections, each of which they contend would be grounds for a reversal: 

• That city calculations which permitted the construction of the additional four floors were wrong, because they included ground floor space. 

• That the project violates the Downtown Plan and city zoning ordinances by counting the cultural bonus space as part of the building’s basic height before the inclusionary bonus was added on. The appeal cites a table in the zoning ordinance (23E.68.070) which establishes the base height without the inclusion of either bonus. 

• That the approval citation that the project was “consistent with the Downtown Plan” is erroneous and that the findings included no basis for violating the downtown limit of five stories. 

• That the project violates no fewer than 21 city General Plan policies. 

• That the project misuses the General Plan, especially by ignoring Downtown Development Standards and height limits. 

• That the project was approved without the requisite permits for cultural and arts uses. 

• That the interpretation and application of density bonus are flawed. 

• That included parking spaces are far higher than required by the zoning ordinance and would result in increased automobile traffic in the downtown. 

• That the location and attributes of the inclusionary housing units violate city standard. 

• That the city failed to include in their requirements provisions for maintaining affordability should the developer turn the units into condos. 

• That the project violates the aesthetic and historic context of the area, and 

• That the project disregards the city’s creek and watershed policies.