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Much-needed apartments at Berkeley Shattuck Cinemas site canceled

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Despite approval four years ago, Harold Way development never broke ground—and now it never will

A movie marquee.
Shattuck Cinemas in 2009.
Photo by javacolleen

The long-embattled proposal for an 18-story Berkeley development with over 300 apartments on the site of the Shattuck Cinemas appears to have reached its final reel, as the developer now says they’re not interested in beginning construction, ending a nearly decade-long conflict.

Developer Hill Street Realty bought the site and the development at 2211 Harold Way—dubbed Berkeley Center, in its latest incarnation—in 2012 for $20 million, proposing a mixed-use development with 301 homes and 10,000 square feet of retail space.

Hill Street was in the process of formally filing for building permits but decided to not to pay the associated fees before the deadline. The Berkeley Daily Planet reports that principal Joe Penner sent an opaque but pointed email to the city’s planning department, saying:

“The city believed that development projects are a never ending piggy bank they can continue to raid. Now the city will get zero.”

Nobody at Hill Street has yet returned requests for comment.

In addition to the chronic Berkeley allergies about new high-rise development, the Harold Way plan long attracted criticism because of its potential impact on the theater. In 2013, the developers made the mistake of releasing renderings that excluded the cinema, igniting public ire.

The housing complex’s lackluster design.
Rendering courtesy of Berkeley Planning

Back then the planned high-rise was significantly larger, consisting of 355 homes and 12,000 square feet of retail. The most recent proposal scaled back those elements.

And while construction would indeed have demolished the theater and related building, the plans called for an entirely new theater to go along with the new housing.

A 2015 planning department memo argued that the redevelopment was a smart deal, in part, because it offered a 20-year lease for the theater, whereas the existing cinema “currently has no long term commitment to Berkeley.”

Alas.

The Berkeley City Council approved the Harold Way plan in 2015, and the city granted Hill Street several extensions on the original two-year deadline to obtain permits. But during that time, the development never left the chute—and now apparently never will.