BERKELEY -- A developer has proposed an upscale 355-unit apartment project downtown with views of the Golden Gate Bridge, community rooms with Wi-Fi, a fitness center and rooftop gardens.
HSR Berkeley Investments, managed by Los Angeles-based Hill Street Realty, is calling the $200 million project The Residences at Berkeley Plaza.
The developer already bought the buildings for the project bordered by Shattuck Avenue, Kittredge Street, Harold Way and Allston Way for $20 million. If approved the project would be the first of three 180-foot buildings allowed downtown under the 2010 voter-approved Measure R.
The Shattuck Hotel, also on that block, is separately owned and not part of the project.
Despite its promise to rejuvenate downtown, the project has sparked concerns. Preservationists question plans to demolish historic structures adjacent to the Shattuck Hotel to make way for the apartments, particularly the old Hinks department store building which now contains the Shattuck Cinemas. Developers plan to close the movie theater.
Steven Finacom, Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association board member, said the facade of the cinema building should be protected.
"There are these big beautiful windows all along Kittredge and around the corner onto Harold Way," which were painted over by the theater, he said.
Preservationists also question the project's impact on nearby historic buildings.
The concerns don't dampen project consultant Mark Rhoades' enthusiasm. Rhoades is also a former city of Berkeley planner.
"No one's saying that there won't be some kind of impact," Rhoades said. "There will be an environmental impact report to work out."
Environmental Impact Reports mandate community input and can require project revisions.
Berkeley Planning Director Eric Angstadt estimates the revision and approval process could take two years.
"They've told us what they want to do and now we'll say what they can do," he said.
While he welcomes the project's high environmental standards and plans for open space, Councilman Jesse Arreguin, who represents downtown, said he has shared concerns with developers about the need for family housing.
"One of the issues I had raised with developers is if we want a broader mix of people living in the building, you've got to have larger units, multiple bedrooms," Arreguin said. "We need a downtown for everyone, not just people who make six figures."
As mandated by city statutes, 10 percent of the apartments will be available to very low-income earners. Arreguin said he'd like more affordable units, but Rhoades noted that 35 units constitute as many apartments as some stand-alone affordable projects.
The project calls for a 12,000-square-foot plaza with cafe seating on the ground floor, lush landscaping and public art. The plaza will be accessible to hotel patrons and will be "open to the public generally speaking," Rhoades said.
New apartment dwellers will infuse downtown with vitality and fill city coffers with tax dollars, Rhoades said. In addition to about 700 new tenants the project would bring to downtown, the city recently approved two other apartment buildings downtown, totaling about 300 units.