Berkeley raises height limits to alleviate student housing shortage

City to rezone blocks south of UC Berkeley campus to allow up to 2,700 more homes

Berkeley Raises Height Limits to Alleviate Housing Shortage

A photo illustration of Councilman Rigel Robinson along with an aerial view of the UC Berkeley campus (Getty, Rigel Robinson)

To help solve a student housing crunch, the City of Berkeley will rezone nearly 30 city blocks south of the UC Berkeley campus to allow taller buildings.

The Berkeley City Council voted unanimously to update its zoning to allow buildings as high as 12 stories in the dense Southside neighborhood below the university, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

The new zoning will relax open space requirements and allow another 2,652 homes in the roughly 28 blocks bounded by Bancroft Way, Prospect Street, Dwight Way and Fulton Street.

“I could not be more relieved and excited that the city has finally taken this overdue and urgent step,” Councilman Rigel Robinson, who represents the Southside, told the Chronicle. “The student housing crisis has become the defining characteristic of the student experience at UC Berkeley. 

“And the student housing crisis has ripple effects on our citywide housing crisis.”

UC Berkeley provides housing for 23 percent of its students, the lowest rate of any UC campus.

Last year, a judge forced the university to hold back acceptances for thousands of students because of the lack of housing, until state lawmakers intervened.

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The new zoning will allow building heights to rise by 85 feet on certain streets, including parts of Telegraph Avenue, Bancroft Way, Durant Avenue and others, in a region packed with historic buildings.

Developers will now be able to build up to12 stories under state density bonus rules, if they include affordable housing.

If developers include both affordable housing and middle-income housing, they would be eligible under AB 1287, which goes into effect next year, to build as high as 16 stories, Robinson said.

The council decision was made to comply with a state requirement to build more housing, according to the Chronicle. The effort has pitted a need for housing against a bitter campaign to preserve People’s Park.

The City Council will consider proposed changes to create affordable housing for middle-income households, and to undo single-family zoning next year. 

Developers have already taken advantage of new state housing laws to build taller apartment buildings across the East Bay city, with more than a dozen multifamily projects in the pipeline.

This month, Atlanta-based Niles Bolton Associates was the latest developer to pitch Berkeley housing, with a plan to replace Main Street-style storefronts in Downtown Berkeley with an eight-story, 111-unit apartment building near the UC Berkeley campus

— Dana Bartholomew

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