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

After two recent discussions regarding the environmental impact analysis for a tall building proposed at 2211 Harold Way, the Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board agreed Thursday to delay action pending new plans expected from developers.

City staff told the zoning board at its May 14 meeting that the developer is modifying plans in response to Design Review Committee feedback in April. Staff said that, rather than move ahead to certify the project’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR), it would be better to “take a step back” and wait to learn about the project’s most recent iteration. Staff will complete a report about the project revisions and environmental analysis, and the final EIR will not come back to the board until the staff report is complete.

City planner Shannon Allen said she hopes to bring back the EIR for consideration at the end of June, followed by the community benefits and project entitlements package for Harold Way at the end of July.

The Berkeley City Council, too, is in the process of considering new policies related to the community benefits required of large projects downtown — including 2211 Harold Way — under the city’s Downtown Area Plan. That topic is slated to be back before council next Tuesday, May 26.

Mayor Tom Bates and Councilman Laurie Capitelli have suggested several new guidelines, including a $100 fee per square foot for residential portions of buildings 76-120 feet tall; a $150-per-square-foot fee for that portion above 120 feet; the requirement of a project labor agreement; and voluntary on-site benefits related to arts and culture that must be approved by council. Under the proposal, the developer could get fee discounts related to the labor agreement and voluntary benefits, and “The remainder would be paid into a City fund to be used for affordable housing and arts and culture benefits.”

Some members of the public said Thursday that the zoning board should delay consideration of the Harold Way EIR until the council process is complete. A consultant hired by the city to complete the EIR, Abe Leider, told the board that whatever community benefits are required would be unlikely to significantly change his analysis of project impacts on the physical environment, which is the focus of the EIR. (The draft EIR documents are posted under the “October 3, 2014” entry on the city website for Harold Way.)

The Zoning Adjustments Board, with John Selawsky (left) sitting in for Sophie Hahn. Photo: Emilie Raguso

One member of the board, architect Richard Christiani, described the environmental impact report as “very thorough” and “well thought out.”

Others asked for some changes to be made, including better placement of the list of mitigations required of the project in the EIR, as well as other mitigations required separately by the city’s Downtown Area Plan.

Commissioner Denise Pinkston said there had been “a lot of confusion” because those mitigations had not been presented together clearly, and suggested highlighting them toward the front of the impact report to make them easier to find. Consultant Leider directed Pinkston to a checklist in the draft EIR, which he said addressed those issues thoroughly. (It is a large PDF that will take time to load.)

Commissioners also said they would like to see a more thorough and focused discussion in the report regarding impacts on Berkeley High School, which is about a block from the project site. Community members said they are concerned in particular about noise during testing week, and traffic patterns during lunch time, when many students leave campus.

Some members of the public suggested that Washington Elementary also should be considered, but commissioners said that was likely outside the radius for analysis. Commissioners did say it might be necessary to look at impacts on Berkeley City College, which is not currently part of the draft EIR.

The question of impacts on the high school has come up repeatedly recently, with some community members expressing dismay that students and parents were not informed during the comment period related to the EIR. Leider told the board Thursday that notices about the EIR were sent to the Berkeley Unified School District, which Leider said did not respond during the comment period.

In a May 7 letter from BUSD Superintendent Donald Evans and Berkeley Board of Education President Judy Appel, they said the board plans to review the EIR at its May 20 meeting. They referred to concerns raised by the Berkeley High Safety Committee (page 8), but emphasized that their letter did not take a position on the project or its EIR.

The operations manager for Berkeley High, David Kirwin, wrote in a memo to the Safety Committee (page 19) that he believed “the impact on BHS was almost completely ignored or disregarded,” adding that “The noise, pollution, and traffic especially, seem to be inadequately addressed at best.”

Leider presented an overview to the zoning board Thursday related to project impacts on the high school, including those related to air quality, noise and traffic. He said appropriate mitigations are in place — in both the EIR and Downtown Area Plan — regarding the high school, and that the developer will work with a city traffic engineer prior to the issuance of a building permit to create a construction staging and traffic management plan.

Leider also briefly highlighted how he determined project impacts related to water, and referred to a letter (page 60) from the East Bay Municipal Utility District that “did not identify any significant project impacts.” He said, too, for those concerned about the current drought, that his analysis was based on an EBMUD document that included a “multiple dry year scenario.”

One member of the public tied balloons to seats at Old City Hall in support of their use at Harold Way to show project massing. Photo: Emilie Raguso
One member of the public tied balloons to seats at Old City Hall in support of their use at Harold Way to show project massing. Photo: Emilie Raguso

About 23 members of the public commented before the zoning board Thursday night, which was the second time the board has considered the approval of the EIR. At a prior meeting in April, nearly 30 people — many of whom were in attendance Thursday — addressed the board.

Comments last week ranged from concerns about the future of Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas — which is slated to be rebuilt as part of Harold Way — to impacts on the Central Library and Berkeley High, Berkeley’s water resources and sewage infrastructure, and impacts on Codornices Creek (page 55).

Some also asked that large balloons be used — similar to the function of “storey poles” — to show the true height and massing of the building to allow for more public analysis of the project. Former Mayor Shirley Dean questioned the validity of a report on geotechnical feasibility that was considered in the EIR, given that the report itself specified it should only be considered accurate through Jan. 25 of this year.

Many suggested that the overall environmental analysis and public process surrounding it had been deficient and that the EIR could be challenged legally if significant changes are not made.

Another area of concern for city officials and community members alike has been the fate of Habitot Children’s Museum, which would be forced to move if Harold Way is built. Habitot has already secured a new location, but has said it will need significant financial help to realize its plans. It has asked the city to ensure that compensation from the developer is part of whatever community benefits package ultimately is approved.

In a May 14 letter (page 8) from Habitot executive director Gina Moreland to the zoning board, she said the agency has collected more than 600 signatures, and 200 comments, from supporters. She asked the board to hold off on approving the EIR until the impacts on Habitot are known.

Board members asked for the possible creation in the EIR of a section addressing all the concerns related to Berkeley High School. And they said they hoped Leider could include the latest project designs and specifications in the analysis, and confirm that the changes that have taken place in recent months have not been significant enough to affect the environmental impacts.

The movie theaters continued to be a concern for commissioners, as well. They asked staff for more specificity, the next time around, with regards to the proposed cinema designs. Commissioner Pinkston said she would like to be able to review the lease agreement for the theaters to make sure the space will be protected in perpetuity if the theaters are proposed as a community benefit.

Commissioner George Williams said he agreed with the intention of Pinkston’s comments, but saw the project overall a bit differently. He said he would be unlikely to vote in favor of Harold Way at all if theaters are not part of the proposal.

“The theaters are an essential component and…. I don’t think I could make a non-detriment finding unless the project included a replacement of the very important entertainment function, and the draw that gives to the downtown,” he said. “I don’t think we have to use up the community benefit budget in order to get replacement theaters.”

See a staff overview about the EIR, or watch the zoning board meeting online. Read past Berkeleyside coverage of plans for 2211 Harold Way. See more documents related to the project on the city website. For more information on the community benefits item slated to come before the Berkeley City Council on May 26, see the posted agenda.

Op-ed: A tale of two Measure Rs (05.16.15)
Op-ed: Berkeley deserves better than 2211 Harold Way (05.11.15)
Council says affordable housing, union labor should be priority community benefits (05.07.15)
Berkeley officials seek feedback on ‘community benefits’ (04.04.15)
View from UC Berkeley Campanile will not be landmarked (04.06.15)

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist...