The Berkeley City Council is considering amendments to the West Berkeley zoning forwarded by the Planning Commission. The Council may adopt the recommendations as written or consider additional changes within the framework of the current proposal. Presented here are some of the more frequently asked questions that have been raised over the past several weeks.

                   Note:  If you would like to read what other Berkeley residents are saying about these amendments and/or post your own statement, you may do so on Open Town Hall.

What is the proposal?    The proposal is to modify West Berkeley Zoning in order to facilitate the reuse of existing buildings, the development of large multi-parcel sites, and the start-up of new types of industrial activities.  The recommended zoning amendments affect primarily the three industrial zoning districts in West Berkeley (M – Manufacturing, MM – Mixed Manufacturing and MULI – Mixed Use Light Industrial) and fall into four categories:

  1. Reusing and expanding existing buildings and businesses, primarily by reducing levels of discretion and by simplifying the language in the Zoning Ordinance.
  2. Updating and expanding the list of uses allowed in industrial district;
  3. Making the Master Use Permit (MUP) process more flexible to facilitate development of large multi-parcel sites;
  4. Allowing five new uses into a portion of the protected spaces: contractors, arts and crafts, non-store based retail (e.g., internet-based retail), service to buildings and dwellings, and research and development (R & D)The full staff report with the detailed proposal can be found at West Berkeley Project.

Is this a new plan?   In September, 2007 the City Council directed staff to consider ways to facilitate the development of large industrial parcels. Over the next two years the Planning Commission expanded the scope of considerations to include amendments to allow Research and Development (R & D) and relax some of the restraints on protected uses.

What are ‘protected uses’?   Currently manufacturing, material recovery enterprises (recycling), warehouse and wholesaling activities are protected uses. Other uses are not permitted in spaces engaged in these activities although one is allowed to exchange one protected use for another (in other words, you could change a warehouse to a manufacturing space). Artists’ spaces are also protected under an additional provision.                       

What is a Master Use Permit?  A Master Use Permit (MUP) allows a property owner to comprehensively plan a large site, receive entitlements (permits) and build the project in phases over a long period (20-30 years). The conditions in the MUP are negotiated with the City and will include a number of community benefits over and above what a regular use permit would contain. These benefits may include contributions to transportation systems such as a shuttle service for West Berkeley, job training and job placement programs for Berkeley residents, affordable housing contributions, funds for the support of local artists and other similar benefits. The advantage to the property owner is certainty over a long period of time for the approved uses, additional density in the form of height and massing for the buildings and flexibility in the site plan design. 

How big could the MUP sites be? Can they grow over time?   An MUP site must be a minimum of 4 acres or 1 contiguous block. At this time the Council is considering various methods for limiting the size and growth of properties that currently would qualify.

What are the boundaries of the area under consideration?   Albany border on the north, San Pablo Avenue to the east, Emeryville to the south, and I-80 to the west.

Are there businesses waiting to move into Berkeley if we make the changes?  I am not aware of any although I suspect that anyone planning to develop an MUP and the significant investment involved would likely have some tenants in mind.

What are the size limits of potential new businesses both employee size and building size?   The zoning ordinance generally breaks down businesses by square footage and that determines the level of review by the City. Less than 20,000 square feet requires only a Zoning Certificate (over the counter). 20-40,000 square feet requires an Administrative Use Permit which is appealable ultimately to the City Council. More than 40,000 square feet requires a use permit and public hearing appealable to the City Council. Employee numbers cover a broad range depending on the use. A reasonable assumption is that there are .7 to 2.5 employees per 1000 square feet of building.

How tall are the buildings and how many would there be? How many stories can the building be?   Under the Planning Commission proposal height restrictions in West Berkeley would not be changed except in the 6 permitted Master Use Permit sites (MUP’s). The current proposal allows MUP heights up to 75’. This height would allow 6 stories or less depending on the type of activity in the building. Some research facilities require very high ceilings and would result in a 3 or 4 story building.

Could there be a Wal-Mart or Best Buy built under the proposal?   No. Retail is allowed in only a few specified areas of West Berkeley (for example, Gilman, 4th Street area, West Berkeley Bowl, Ashby Avenue). There are no sites being proposed for retail space in the West Berkeley Project that would add to the currently allowable sites. “Big Box’ retailers require very large sites none of which in Berkeley currently allow retail.

How many new employees would there be?   There are no accurate numbers regarding job growth projections although we do know that current warehouse/wholesaling space employs about 1 person for every 1600 square feet of space. R & D averages 1 employee per 350-500 square feet. We also know that manufacturing employment has declined dramatically in the last 20 years going from 4130 to 3345. This was during a period of expansion at Bayer. Without increased Bayer employment the drop would have gone to 2345 jobs. These estimates come from the California Employment Development Department.

What is R & D?   A research and development facility is an establishment comprised of laboratory or other non-office space, which is engaged in one or more of the following activities: industrial, biological or scientific research; product design; development and testing; and limited manufacturing for the production of prototypes.

Why not just put the R & D downtown where we have office space available?   R & D is not an office use and most downtown office space would not provide the flexibility needed. Many different types of work spaces are needed depending on the type of work performed. R & D activities include original research, product design, prototype development and testing, and limited assembly and other similar activities.

How would new businesses affect the property values?   Property values are determined by a number of variables including market demand, supply, and price relative to space outside of Berkeley. Investment in new or remodeled buildings would logically increase the value of those properties. R & D users look for a variety of different spaces ranging from somewhat crude ‘workshop’ space to sophisticated and costly lab spaces. Incubator startups generally seek low cost space with very few tenant amenities.