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Green initiative may scuttle high-rise projects in Berkeley, California, critics charge

Measure would mandate LEED Platinum on new high-rise construction

June 05, 2014 |
View of Berkeley and Bay from Claremont Canyon. Photo: Urban via Wikimedia Commo

Volunteers in Berkeley, Calif., are collecting signatures for the “Green Downtown & Public Commons Initiative,” a controversial measure that critics charge would halt some development in the city. The initiative has higher green standards and less flexible design guidelines—factors that developers say could stop two major projects, a proposed 180-foot high hotel and a 17-story apartment tower.

The initiative would mandate that developers planning a project taller than 60 feet use the “Green Pathways” provision of the Downtown Area Plan. This rule—currently optional—says that a developer can provide a higher level of community benefits in exchange for a fast-track approval process. Under Green Pathways, developers have to make structures LEED Platinum rather than LEED Gold; build more parking; include spaces for bicycles, electric cars and the handicapped; pay prevailing wages to construction and hotel workers; and make sure that half of a project’s construction workers are Berkeley residents.

The financial proposition for a high-rise hotel in Berkeley is fragile, according to a representative of the proposed hotel, and the new initiative would require additional setbacks and restrictions that would make it impossible to have enough rooms on each floor to make the project viable. The initiative calls for a minimum 15-foot setback, but the hotel developer says the structure must have a 10-foot setback to have enough space per floor.

City Councilman Jesse Arreguín, who supports the measure, says it is not intended to stop development, but is a way of getting developers to contribute more benefits to the downtown area.


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