Historic Berkeley show palace could rise as a 15-story apartment building
Six proposed highrises would tower over Downtown Berkeley
New apartment towers made possible by state density bonus law
Downtown Berkeley is growing taller faster than any Bay Area city hub.
Six buildings between 16 and 28 stories are proposed in Berkeley’s central core, enabled by state legislation that makes it easier for developers to build residential buildings regardless of whether cities want them or not, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
In the East Bay city, only one highrise has been built above 13 stories since 1971. Three of the proposed buildings would rival UC Berkeley’s Campanile.
“Ultimately, this is a big change,” Mayor Jesse Arreguin, president of the Association of Bay Area Governments, told the Chronicle. “Because communities for many years have refused to permit housing, the state has stepped in to remove those obstacles.
“It does affect our ability to shape the urban form.”
The half-dozen tall buildings on the drawing board wouldn’t stand out in Downtown Oakland or northeast San Francisco.
But Berkeley, though a city of 115,000 people that includes a university with 45,000 students, has only three downtown towers above 12 stories. The most recent, an 18-story hotel, opened last year.
The spate of new highrises comes more than a decade after a hard-fought battle to keep them out.
After a Downtown plan allowing a handful of taller buildings was approved in 2012, opponents failed to overturn it with a ballot initiative. The first proposed tower endured more than 30 public meetings and a lawsuit before all the hurdles were cleared — only for developers to pull the plug in 2020, saying the project no longer penciled out.
But the playing field is different now – and not just in Berkeley.
There’s a state-mandated density bonus of up to 50 percent for projects that include affordable housing, limiting a city’s discretion to seek design alterations or “community benefits,” financial concessions beyond what are spelled out by prior law.
This even applies to cities like Berkeley and San Francisco, where affordable housing requirements already on the books exceed what Sacramento now requires. In other words, developers seeking to build in those cities almost automatically qualify for the state bonus.
Cities and counties can now hold no more than five public hearings before voting on a project – which means growth-averse municipalities can’t stretch out the public process to wear developers down.
The latest Berkeley highrise projects now include:
- A 28-story apartment building proposed at 1998 Shattuck Avenue. NX Ventures is behind the 317-foot-tall building, the tallest in town, designed by Trachtenberg Architects.
- A 26-story mixed-use apartment building proposed at 2128 Oxford Street, across from the Berkeley campus. Core Spaces is behind the 288-foot tall building, designed by DLR Group.
- A 25-story apartment building proposed at 2190 Shattuck Avenue. PGIM is behind the 260-foot-tall building, designed by Trachtenberg.
- A 15-story apartment building proposed at 2113 Kittredge Street, at the former California Theatre. Gilbane is behind the 214-unit building, designed by Studio KDA.
- A 17-story apartment building proposed at 2274 Shattuck Avenue, at the former United Artists Theater. Panorama Interests is behind the 239-unit building, designed by Trachtenberg.
- A 16-story apartment building proposed at 2420 Shattuck Avenue. NX Ventures is behind the 171-foot tall building, designed by Trachtenberg.
The spate of new buildings threatens the funkiness and old rents along various sidewalks, according to the Chronicle. The new highrises would also hold mostly university students, erasing the traditional dividing line between town and gown.
— Dana Bartholomew
COMPANIES AND PEOPLE