Overwhelming public uncertainty has forced a development plan for downtown Berkeley to be put on hold pending a 2010 vote.

Although largely developed by Berkeley citizens, the community petitioned a plan that would promote high density development in the downtown area.

Matthew Taecker, Principal Planner in Berkeley said, “One of the main motivations for the petition was a belief that a lot of development would happen that would negatively affect the downtown character and not extract enough benefit from developers.”

Taecker said affordable housing would come from the development, buildings would be greener and more benefits would be offered to future employees.

In 2005, the city council appointed 21 members to the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee (DAPAC) that would meet and draft a plan over 100 meetings in two years.

After experts identified all but a few issues, the DAPAC made its final recommendations and submitted them to city council and the Planning Commission in late 2007.

The Berkeley Planning Commission began developing its recommendations for the Downtown Area Plan in 2008.

“The Planning Commission came up with the document. They aligned on vast majority of issues,” Taecker said.

The Planning Commission agreed with the DAPAC that there were significant public benefits from higher intensity development, but it concluded after a development feasibility assessment was conducted and showed taller buildings would be necessary to achieve these benefits.

The assessment found that the economics associated with height, building codes and construction costs are likely to make buildings heights between 75 and 160 feet infeasible in the best economic times conditions.

The city council adopted the Downtown Plan in July only to be followed by a successful signature initiative that opposed the plan and places it on the ballot in 2010.

Taecker claimed the two sides to the debate are that it has to be feasible for development to happen or nothing will get done.

The other debate is the city needs to be vigilant in protecting the downtown area and its character.

Taecker said unless the council adopts a significantly different plan, the state law referendum process will keep the plan on hold until the city has the opportunity to vote in 2010.

“I think this was a good piece of public policy.” Taecker said.

Louis Dettorre can be reached at ldettorre@publicceo.com