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Berkeley post office zoning upheld by federal judge

BERKELEY — A U.S. district judge has upheld the Berkeley City Council’s 2014 mandate that the historic Berkeley Main Post Office only be used for civic, educational or nonprofit purposes.
The judge’s decision last week concluded a 6-year legal battle between Berkeley and the United States Postal Service, which intended to sell the downtown post office in 2012.
Berkeley unsuccessfully tried to sue the Postal Service, which had announced  its intent to sell the building to the highest bidder, which city officials believed would disrupt the “character of the Civic Center,” according to a news release.
The Civic Center Historic District consists of nine parcels between Allston Way and Center Street, Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Milvia Street. The buildings were initially planned in 1899 and completed by 1950, the news release said.
“For over 100 years, the Civic Center has been the heart of Berkeley’s civic and cultural life,” the release said.
When the lawsuit was dismissed, the City Council established an ordinance that created the “Civic Center Historic Overlay,” and restricted the buildings — including the Veteran’s Memorial Building and the YMCA — to be used only as libraries, courts, museums, live performance theaters, schools and other public agencies and other government, civic and nonprofit uses.
That prompted the Postal Service to sue the city, claiming that the overlay ordinance was enacted to prevent the sale of the post office. Developers had expressed interest in the property while it was on the market.
U.S. District Judge William Alsup, in his ruling, said the ordinance “does not totally frustrate the USPS’s ability to sell the post office,” since it could still sell to someone who will use it for one of the designated purposes.
“Historic preservation is a quintessential local matter,” Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin said in a statement. “This decision confirms that local governments have wide latitude to protect vital historic resources without interference from the federal government.”

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