Public Comment

What's Happening to 2211 Harold Way?

Kelly Hammargren
Saturday September 01, 2018 - 10:15:00 AM

The sinking Millennium Tower has captivated San Francisco. Is Berkeley sliding toward its own scandal?

Berkeley Planning Director Timothy Burroughs succumbed to City pressure to sign yet another extension for the project planned for 2211 Harold Way, so presumably the developers who carried the project through entitlement and won the CEQA lawsuit can find a buyer to build it and an institution to finance the project.

With a perceived shortage of housing and a captive student rental audience, why has this project been so hard to flip?

The project site consists of interconnected buildings (the Shattuck Hotel Complex) which are divided into three overlapping commercial condominiums: Units A, B and C.

The developers of the Harold Way project own Unit A and Unit B, the Postal Annex, the storefronts along Shattuck Avenue, the Shattuck Cinemas and the basements underneath. Longtime residents recognize these portions as the former Hink’s Department Store.

Unit C includes the operational Shattuck Hotel, the restaurant, the hotel lobby, the basement service area and the hotel rooms, including the hotel rooms along Shattuck Avenue, floors two through five above UNIT A. These are owned by BPR, an independent family operation.

The 2211 Harold Way project as entitled calls for demolition and excavation under the hotel rooms (which the developer does not own) to build the three subterranean movie theaters and a lobby area which are promised under the permit.

It may be possible to properly brace the upper floors of the historic Shattuck Hotel to prevent damage and/or collapse during demolition and excavation for these promised theaters, but if (and some would say when) something goes wrong, who is responsible and what is the cost?

The City of Berkeley approved the project. As San Francisco has been with the Millennium Tower, Berkeley could very likely be pulled into lawsuits along with the developer.

The other question is why any investor group would buy a project which requires demolition and excavation under a building it does not own when there are sites all across the country without this complication and risk. Maybe there is a different plan: an expectation of an easy ride, of dumping the cinemas in the current Harold Way project plan, especially if they start demolition and problems develop.

Over five thousand cinema patrons from all across the Bay Area signed petitions to save Shattuck Cinemas. Just a few spoke in favor of the project, many of whom were vying to be recipients of the project's supposed “community benefits.”

Citizens by the hundreds wrote and testified against this project, objecting to:

  • the lack of inclusionary affordable housing,
  • intrusion into the view from Campanile Way,
  • demolition of Shattuck Cinemas and portions of the landmarked Shattuck Hotel Complex,
  • allowing a seismic report instead of a seismic study with soil borings,
  • location in a school zone impacting approximately 3500 students,
  • a transportation study that challenged common sense with the project parking entrance/exit across from the Central Library on Kittredge and
  • impact on City infrastructure.
It might be a good time for backers with career ambitions to start looking for a different job, before this project goes wrong as predicted by many.