I know many of you are very interested in our ongoing process to develop the N. Berkeley BART parking lot as required by state law, AB 2923 . This is an exciting opportunity for us to create homes that are affordable for low- and moderate-income families using our Measure O affordable housing bond—generously approved by voters last November.
I’m inspired by your engagement in our community process to date. Through the course of my conversations with neighbors, I have heard some frequently asked questions, and I want to do my best to provide answers below.
Q: I’ve heard there could be a high-rise located at this site. Is that true?
A: No, that’s not true. A high-rise would not be allowed by the zoning that the City Council is planning to adopt for this site. The new state law ( AB 2923 ) requires the City to approve zoning for the N. Berkeley BART parking lot that aligns with BART’s 2017 Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) Guidelines staff report . The BART TOD Manager who presented during our Jan. 15 th Council Work Session said during this meeting that 7 stories would be the “maximum height envisioned” for the N. Berkeley BART station. We also have to ensure that we meet BART’s TOD guideline of 75 units per acre, and this can actually be done with a maximum height that is less than 7 stories .
There are four developable acres at the N. Berkeley BART station, so the TOD guideline of 75 units per acre means that we will be required to approve a project that includes at least 300 units . The Mayor and I have both expressed our desire to see the development fit the scale of the neighborhood and one important way we can do this is by stepping down the development at the perimeter of the BART parking lot so it blends in with the single-family homes across the street from the station.
It’s important to keep in mind that the amount of green open space, number of parking spots, as well as the number of below-market-rate units we are seeking to create will all play a role in how tall the development would need to be at its maximum height in order to meet the BART TOD guideline of at least 300 units. Because these aspects of the project have not yet been determined, it is difficult to commit to a specific height at this time. I absolutely want to ensure that the development fits the scale of the surrounding neighborhood.
Q: I don’t agree with the Urban Neighborhood/City Center place-type designation that BART assigned to the N. Berkeley BART station that sets a threshold of seven stories. Can we change the designation to be Neighborhood/Town Center that sets a threshold of five stories?
A: AB 2923 is the state law that gives BART the ability to zone its parking lots for development. The law codified the place-type designations that BART created in its 2017 TOD Guidelines staff report . As the BART TOD Manager noted during her presentation at our Jan. 15 th Council Work Session, there were only three place types for all 48 stations in the BART system. Invariably, this means that the place-type designations are not a perfect fit for all stations.
However, the place-type designations are not arbitrary. I have learned that they are based on four criteria:
- Residential density
- Proximity to major job centers
- Transit connectivity
- Walkable (small) blocks
Studies (such as this one ) have found that creating homes in a location with the above four characteristics has the effect of lowering greenhouse gas emissions.
BART provided the following explanation for why the N. Berkeley BART station received the Urban Neighborhood/City Center place-type designation:
“North Berkeley is a high performing station on three of these [four] factors, with 7- to 8-minute BART headways and close proximity to major job centers. Therefore, focusing more households near the station is one way to reduce driving-related greenhouse gas emissions and increase transportation choice for households. For this reason, staff classified North Berkeley in the middle place type [Urban Neighborhood/City Center] for the TOD guidelines, rather than the lowest place type [Neighborhood/Town Center] assigned to other station areas performing less well on these factors.”
I understand that some of you feel strongly that the N. Berkeley BART station should not be designated as an Urban Neighborhood/City Center station. This is a matter of state law because AB 2923 codified the place-type designations in the 2017 BART TOD Guidelines staff report . I’m continuing to evaluate the best course of action on this issue. One thing that is important to keep in mind is that all place-type designations require a minimum density of 75 units per acre; this minimum density requirement may be a more important metric than zoned height for determining the size and scale of future development. In the coming months, the City will likely enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with BART and that will be an opportunity to specify the terms of a robust community input process that includes design review.
Q: Are we going to lose all the parking spots at the station?
A: N. Berkeley BART is considered an urban station with parking. I believe that we need to be mindful of seniors, people with disabilities, and others in our community who need to be able to park in order to access the station. Our City Planning Department staff have been in conversation with BART staff to ensure that our decision about parking is based on a traffic study.
At the same time, we need to be forward-looking and imaginative in our approach to parking needs. The reality is that this development will not break ground for five to eight years (or longer in the event of a recession), so we need to think about transportation patterns far into the future. We may want to consider flexible parking designs that can evolve over time as transportation modes continue to evolve. Just over the last two years, we’ve seen the proliferation of dockless and electric bikes and scooters, which will expand the radius of places that are accessible to the N. Berkeley BART station without a car.
Q: What about green open space?
A: In a word, yes! I fully support the inclusion of green open space and drought-resistant native plants into the design of the project. Because the land above the BART tunnel is considered undevelopable, this is an area that can be used to create green open space that benefits everyone. Some neighbors have proposed connecting Ohlone Park to the greenway or a publicly-accessible rooftop green space. I support exploration of all options to create green open space that can be enjoyed by the whole community.
Q: What about bicycle and pedestrian safety?
A: I’m committed to ensuring that we design for the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians in and around the station. Separate from our development of homes at the N. Berkeley BART station, BART will be making major bike and pedestrian improvements to the station that will likely begin in summer 2020 and take about a year to complete. Some of those improvements will include:
- Widening of the Ohlone Greenway from the current 8 feet to 18 feet, which will include a two-way cycle track 12 feet in width (6 feet in each direction) as well as 6 feet for a pedestrian path; path lighting will also be added.
- Within the station, two-way cycle tracks will be added to the existing streets; a designated area will be created for dockless bike and scooter drop-off and pick-up; and 120 secure bike lockers will be added.
- Pedestrian paths at the corners of the station will be enhanced.
- Many other improvements are planned to enhance the safety and usability of the station for bicyclists and pedestrians.
This is a lot of highly technical information, and I understand the community has a lot of questions. Some neighbors have asked to meet with me so I can answer questions about development of the N. Berkeley BART station. I welcome these neighborhood meetings. If you’d like to schedule a time for me to meet with you and your neighbors, please contact my office: firstname.lastname@example.org or 510-981-7110.