By Kate Snyder
Almost five years after Pacific Steel Casting closed down its operations in Berkeley during the summer of 2018, the eight-acre site is now being considered for development.
During a board meeting on Wednesday, the Berkeley Planning Commission discussed two major issues related to the property at 1330 Second St.: options for rezoning the site to expand on its potential uses and a concept plan for up to one million square feet of life science space. The planning commission also discussed and took comments from the public on the scope and content of the eventual environmental impact report. The planning commission is collecting public comments on the scope of the EIR until the end of February.
In 2021, the Berkeley City Council referred to the commission the creation of a zoning overlay from the former Pacific Steel Casting site’s current manufacturing designation to a mixed-use light industrial designation. According to the city, the site has generated some interest from real estate and business representatives for numerous mixed-use light industrial uses, such as biotechnology labs, warehouse and commercial uses, or office space, among other possibilities. But any potential uses are limited by the current zoning, which stipulates that the site be used only for heavy manufacturing.
During the recent board meeting, Mark Rhoades, president and CEO of Rhoades Planning Group, gave a presentation to the commission on behalf of Spur Capital Partners, a venture capital firm that specializes in early-stage technology and life science. Spur Capital Partners is the developer and Perkins&Will is the designer on the project.
“It’s really a drag on city resources and certainly isn’t producing any revenue or employment right now,” Rhoades said about the existing site.
The project proposal, called Gilman Gateway or Gilman Forge, is designed to revitalize eight to 10 acres of the industrial space that occupies that portion of the city. Plans at this stage include the construction of up to one million square feet of nonresidential space at a maximum building height of 105 feet, and up to 2,000 off-street automobile parking stalls. The tentative timeline for the project includes submitting an application to the city in the spring of 2023 with public hearings and design reviews taking place throughout the fall of 2023 and spring of 2024.
The Pacific Steel Casting property sits at the corner of Eastshore Highway and Gilman Street, extending two blocks south to Page Street with structures on either side of Second Street. The site was once a thriving manufacturer of custom industrial-use parts that employed more than 650 workers, according to information from the city. In 2014, PSC declared bankruptcy, permanently shuttering four years later in 2018.
The site has been the subject of a number of concerns by both city officials and community members. Problems cited include environmental contamination at the site, hundreds of blue-collar workers awaiting receipt of their pension benefits as a result of a future sale of the property and neighborhood blight and safety concerns resulting from an eight-acre multi-block area of abandoned buildings and graffitied fencing around the property.
Spur Capital Partners was founded in 2001, according to the firm’s website, and has partners in leading endowments, family offices, foundations and institutional investors in the United States and abroad.
Rhoades Planning Group offers services in urban planning, design and entitlements expertise for infill and affordable mixed-use development projects, according to the organization’s website. The company is involved in projects throughout the Bay Area, and has 30 years of experience in city planning and land use policy development and implementation.
“Time is really important. It’s of the essence here for this project to keep moving forward. What the city council referral asked for basically was an appendectomy, and we don’t need open heart surgery,” Rhoades said. “I think that we can bring the city an amazing employment center, incredible new revenue, toxic soil cleanups, union pensions and the whole nine yards by adhering closely to the council’s direction.”