Berkeley lot to get ‘greener’

| Publication: Inside Bay Area

BERKELEY — A process that would allow a developer to build a multimillion-dollar building complex dedicated to late Sierra Club leader David Brower has gotten the green light.
The Berkeley City Council voted 6-3 Tuesday night to approve a disposition and development agreement that opens the door to transfer the Oxford parking lot to Oxford Street Development for construction.

The proposed David Brower Center will be a four-story building with a 170-seat auditorium, conference rooms, art gallery and a restaurant-cafe serving organic fare prepared under the guidance of Chez Panisse founder and chef Alice Waters. It will be green from the ground up and a “hub for environmental education and activism,” proponents say.

The upper three floors will feature a total of 33,000 square feet of offices, mostly for environmental groups, as well as meeting space.

A second-floor courtyard will allow tenants to collaborate on environmental projects, and long community tables in the cafe will encourage interaction among regulars and visitors, according to project plans.

The development would be on Oxford Street between Kittridge Street and Allston Way, in downtown Berkeley.

Another part of the project on the same parcel, the Oxford Plaza, would also include retail space, 41 parking spots and 97 studios, one-, two- and three-bedroom “work force housing” units facing the street and a central courtyard.

The complex will honor Brower, who was born in Berkeley and considered one of the country’s foremost environmental leaders. He died six years ago at age 88.

He was the first executive director of the Sierra Club and founded Friends of the Earth and San Francisco’s Earth Island Institute.

The building will include solar generators and other energy-efficient equipment, and tenants will be dedicated to advancing Brower’s “legacy of conservation, preservation and restoration,” proponents say.

Construction could begin as early as fall but no later than next spring, with completion expected by spring 2009.

The project draws on many different sources of funding, including $100 million from the city. Still, much of the developer’s financing remains unsecured, according to city background on the project.

Council members who cast no votes said they had concerns about the financial structure of the project, among other things.