Op-ed: Berkeley deserves better than 2211 Harold Way

2211 Harold Way is one of several tall building proposals in the pipeline that must offer "significant community benefits" under the Downtown Area Plan. Image: MVEI Architecture and Planning
2211 Harold Way is one of several tall building proposals in the pipeline that must offer “significant community benefits” under the Downtown Area Plan. Image: MVEI Architecture and Planning

What are the three most import things in real estate? Location, Location, Location. What are the three most important things that are wrong with the proposed complex at 2211 Harold Way? Location, Location, Location. That’s just for starters.

Location – the Shattuck Cinemas attracts 275,000 to 300,000 patrons visit every year. Box office admissions have grown 25% since 2008, according to Kimberlee West, the general manager of Shattuck Cinemas. The Shattuck Cinemas are currently showing 11 films with 43 screenings (movie times for the 11 films) on weekdays and 44 screenings on the weekend. If the same number of people went to the movies every day that is 753 to 822 people per day. On May 7, at the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) meeting, Mark Rhoades, the consultant for 2211 Harold Way, declared that there would be nine theaters on three stories. But the plans, which were turned in to the LPC only show four theaters. Where are the other theaters?

A performance arts group lead by the Youth Musical Theater Company, Berkeley Ballet, and West Edge Opera want their own performing arts center and to cut the movie theater space. While I understand why some arts groups want a stage, their audiences are limited- certainly nowhere near the 300,000 the cinemas attract. A large number of screens will maintain the vitality of the downtown and bring a huge number of people to eat in our restaurants and shop in our shops

Location – the proposed 2211 Harold Way is within the Berkeley High School zone, 400 feet away. The long list of impacts to the health, safety and welfare of Berkeley High School students include, air quality, noise and transportation of equipment, supplies and construction materials. The Final EIR fails to address the project’s significant impacts on BHS, or any mitigation measures for those impacts.

Location – the proposed 2211 Harold Way protrudes into the view from Campanile Way. There have never been and probably never will be the requested storey poles – in this case balloons – to show the true mass of the proposed 2211 Harold Way and view impact. Rhoades brought a model of 2211 Harold Way to the LPC and Design Review Committee (DRC), but it was grossly out of scale. In the model, the 194-foot-Harold Way project was the same height as the 148-foot and 162-foot Wells Fargo Building.

Campanile Way is loved by UC Berkeley students, professors, staff, alumni, the community and visitors from the across the world. Petition signatures are ongoing and the appeal to the failure of the Landmarks Preservation Commission to designate Campanile Way as Landmark is filed. Sally Zarnowitz stated at the LPC meeting the appeal would be heard by city council on June 30, 2015.

Location – the proposed 2211 Harold Way will demolish Habitot Children’s museum, which brings 60,000 visitors a year. Habitot is looking for new space.

All along, the Save Shattuck Cinemas group has held the Harold Way project is the wrong design, the wrong size in the wrong place. No matter how one tries to paint the picture the detriments to Berkeley far outweigh any imagined benefits and 2211 Harold Way should have been denied months ago. We deserve better.

With the number of high-rise projects limited to three 180-foot buildings and two 120-foot buildings this should be a competitive process. Certainly the first that comes along with so many problems including the design of the building itself doesn’t deserve further attention.

The listed investor HSR Berkeley Investments LLC is tied to Joseph Penner of Hill Street Realty in Los Angeles. Penner is a former fund manager for Chesapeake family of funds. We don’t know who else has money on the table, but some people are acting nervous and scurrying to counter the facts on the ground. The basic premise of mutual funds is to have enough successful picks to outweigh the losers. This one, 2211 Harold Way is a loser.

Last, the 302 units are destined to be rented for market rate. Any statement that 2211 Harold Way with anticipated rents of around $4000 for 729 square feet (average size) is going to help the affordable housing shortage is nonsense. Law requires 10% of housing in any building higher than 75 feet to be affordable. Developers, however, instead of building affordable units on site, can pay an in lieu mitigation fee. The last study done in 2010 to establish the proper in lieu mitigation fee recommended setting the fee at $28,000 to $34,000 per unit. The Berkeley City Council majority voted in 2010 and again in April to set the fee at a discount of $20,000. Berkeley deserves better.

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Kelly Hammargren RN, MBA, is a 25-year Berkeley resident who is the volunteer Exhibitions Chair for Northern California Women’s Caucus for Art (NCWCA) and who coordinates two artist groups for NCWCA.