Commission Holds Special Meeting on Downtown Plan

By Richard Brenneman
Monday May 19, 2008 - 04:34:00 PM

Planning commissioners take up two parts of the new plan for downtown Berkeley Wednesday night, including proposed city staff changes for both the historic preservation and economic development chapters. 

The meeting is being convened as a special session in addition to the commission’s usual two monthly gatherings.  

In a memorandum to commissioners, Matt Taecker, the principal planner hired to work on the plan, called for the panel to “endorse a process where, for each chapter, staff suggests refinements” to the document drafted by the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee (DAPAC). 

Comprised of City Council appointees, DAPAC was charged with coming up with the proposed plan envisoned in the settlement of a city lawsuit challenging UC Berkeley’s Long Range Development Plan 2020. 

The city's suit alleged that the university had failed to adequately address impacts of a planned 800,000 square feet of off-campus building in the heart of the city’s commercial district. The settlement spelled out compensatory payments, contingent in part on the city's creating a new downtown plan that proved satisfactory to the university. 

City staff repeatedly tried to limit the citizen committee’s input to recommendations, but DAPAC members came up with their own drafts for each of the plan’s chapters. 

Planning Commission members are slated to provide their own proposed revisions, which are due for presentation to the City Council before the end of the year, with council action on a final plan draft due next May. 

In his report to the commission, Taecker asks members to focus on developing measures to implement the plan’s objectives to create “a highly functional plan, clear and well organized.” 

In addition, he writes, they should “consider DAPAC policies that may be in conflict with plan goals or citywide policies, or have unintended consequences.”  

Four members of the commission served on DAPAC: Gene Poschman, Patti Dacey, Helen Burke and commission chair James Samuels. Dacey originally served as a Landmarks Preservation Commission member of the DAPAC's preservation sub-committee, and was later named to the Planning Commission.  

Jim Novosel, a Berkeley architect who served on DAPAC's Historic Preservation and Urban Design Subcommittee, said that while he hadn’t seen any major problems with the staff’s revised chapter, some other DAPAC members were concerned about changes in the two chapters and were planning to meet Tuesday night to discuss their concerns. 

The new staff drafts of both chapters are filled with overstrikes and replacement text in italics. In the economic development revision, almost every line of text has been changed. Poschman declined to comment on any specific changes, but indicated he would have something to say Wednesday night. 

Wednesday night’s meeting begins at 7 p.m. in the North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst Ave. at Martin Luther King Jr. Way.