Downtown’s tallest building: Developer pitches 25-story Berkeley high-rise

The long-planned complex at 2190 Shattuck Ave. would grow to 260 feet, with 326 apartments, under a proposed redesign.

A proposed redesign of an apartment project planned for 2190 Shattuck Ave. would make the building the tallest in downtown Berkeley. It would also dramatically change the building’s appearance. Credit: Isaiah Stackhouse, Trachtenberg Architects

A new developer wants to redesign a long-planned downtown Berkeley apartment complex, with a proposal that would take the structure — and the city’s skyline — to new heights.

Georgia-based Landmark Properties is asking the city for approval to add seven floors to a planned 18-story project that was approved in 2019 to replace a Walgreens store at 2190 Shattuck Ave. If the new proposal is approved and built, the 326-unit structure would become the tallest building in downtown Berkeley, at a height of 260 feet.

The project would also look dramatically different. Gone is the prior design that broke the building up into three stacked slabs, keeping its tallest portion stepped back from Shattuck Avenue — instead, renderings from Trachtenberg Architects show the tower rising directly atop the intersection with Allston Way.

Jason Overman, a spokesman for the development team that also includes Prudential Financial, said the additional floors and new design are critical for the project to pencil out and get built.

A divided Berkeley City Council approved the original proposal, known as the Shattuck Terrace Green Apartments, three years ago — but the Walgreens building remains untouched because that plan is no longer feasible, Overman said. Mill Creek Residential, the developer who shepherded it through a multi-year approval process, has dropped out of the project.

“After years of trying to make the currently-approved project work financially, the 2190 Shattuck team realized astronomically high construction costs mean it would only work if it was redesigned,” Overman said.

The new proposal was first reported by the San Francisco Business Times.

The previous design for the Shattuck Terrace Green Apartments in downtown Berkeley, which a divided City Council approved in 2019. Image: WRNS Studio

The redesign is almost certain to encounter resistance as it seeks city approval — critics balked at the original design’s 180-foot height, and pursued an unsuccessful effort to block the project on the basis that it would get in the way of vistas from the UC Berkeley campus and Campanile. Supporters of the project countered that providing homes amid a regional housing crisis is more important than preserving those views, and argued the site steps from BART in the heart of downtown is the perfect place for dense, tall development.

The 25-story project would be more than 70 feet taller than the SkyDeck building at the other end of Shattuck Avenue’s 2100 block, which currently stands as the tallest downtown. The Campanile, at just over 300 feet, would be the only taller structure in Berkeley.

“We certainly recognize that tall buildings can be a sensitive subject,” Overman said.

“All that we ask is that folks keep an open mind,” he added. “The downtowns of cities across America change over time.”

The planned building would also shoot past provisions of Berkeley’s Downtown Area Plan, which allowed for the construction of three buildings up to 180 feet tall in the city’s core. Almost a decade after that plan was approved, only one such building has broken ground — a 16-story Residence Inn by Marriott hotel, which opened in January. Plans for another 18-story downtown apartment building on Harold Way were scrapped in 2020 after a long approval fight; the latest effort to build a new downtown high-rise, a 17-story proposal for the corner of Center and Oxford streets, was announced last fall.

The 2190 Shattuck team contends it can build past the Downtown Area Plan’s caps thanks to a state housing law allowing developers to exceed local density limits if they include affordable homes in their project. The updated project proposal calls for including 33 affordable apartments, Overman said, with the team also contributing about $6 million to the city’s affordable housing fund; the previous plans for a 274-unit project did not include any affordable units, with the developers instead planning to pay about $10 million into the city’s fund.

Berkeley Planning Director Jordan Klein wrote in an email that city staff will review the proposal “in accordance with all pertinent regulations.” Klein said the project would likely need either a new or modified use permit, which would require review by the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board, but otherwise declined to comment.

Overman said the revised project shifts the building to become what he called “university-focused housing,” with amenities such as study rooms and apartments that range from studios to five-bedrooms. Landmark Properties has built two other developments in Berkeley — the Standard, which opened last year across Bancroft Way from campus, and Stonefire Berkeley, at University Avenue and Milvia Street.

Other amenities include a roof deck for residents and a publicly accessible community room, both of which were features of the project that was approved in 2019. The updated project would also have half as many parking spaces, 51, as the original plan — which was criticized for having more than 100 spots despite its transit-centric location. More detailed plans will be included in a permit modification request, Overman said, which the team plans to file in March.

Overman declined to provide a cost estimate for the development. If the plans are approved “in a reasonable period of time,” he said, the project team hopes to break ground in 2024, and open the building in 2026.

Nico Savidge is Berkeleyside's senior reporter covering city hall. Email: nico@berkeleyside.org. Twitter: NSavidge.