Urban planning

Parker Place development wins council approval

A rendering of Parker Place on the corner of Shattuck Avenue and Parker

Parker Place, a 155-unit development at Shattuck and Parker, won City Council approval last night after a long development tussle.

The project had originally been approved by both the Zoning Adjustments Board and the council in 2010, but a procedural error led to a lawsuit. It returned to the council last November, was the subject of a ZAB public hearing in December, and came back to the council for final approval last night.

Despite the approval, the developers expect opponents to pursue a lawsuit to delay or stop the project. Any suit would need to be filed within 30 days of formal notice of the project’s approval.

The project calls for two five-story mixed-use buildings at 2658 and 2660 Shattuck (both sides of Parker on Shattuck) and a three-story residential building at 2037 Parker. In addition to the 155 dwelling units, there is nearly 23,000 sq ft of commercial space on the ground floor.

A group called Parker-Shattuck Neighbors, represented by Gale Garcia and Patti Dacey, objected to the project at the council meeting, requesting it be referred for an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) before a use permit was granted.

“This is a clearly contaminated area,” said Dacey. She asserted that the project failed on a number of issues relating to CEQA — the California Environmental Quality Act. A Honda dealership currently occupies the site.

“Why after three and a half years of going through a rigorous public process are we here?” said Ali Kashani, partner at Citycentric Investments, the developer. “We had unanimous approvals from ZAB. Now [our opponents] are back calling the site a toxic waste dump. They hide their true intentions behind CEQA.”

In public comments, only one neighbor supported the project at the City Council meeting. More typical was Carl Ward, who described himself as a long-time resident of Parker Street. “You’re destroying my quiet enjoyment and replacing it with 500 new people,” Ward said. “Listen to the people who see their neighborhood destroyed by this five-story behemoth.”

The council discussion of the project focused on the desirability of high-density housing in Berkeley and the importance of affordable housing — 20% of the units at Parker Place are classified as affordable. A number of councilmembers said the location on a major transit corridor — Shattuck Avenue — was key to their support. The hope is many residents will use public transit.

“Housing scarcity drives up the costs for everyone,” said Councilmember Linda Maio. “We have a responsibility to try to create more housing to serve demand. It’s totally within the mission and values that have been growing in the city of Berkeley and its policy for many years. I don’t see a compelling reason to turn down a building of homes for people that we need quite a bit.”

“I think this is a model project,” said Councilmember Darryl Moore. “I’m excited about the 31 of 155 units for affordable housing. It provides the kind of affordable housing that we need — we so desperately need — in this city.”

Councilmember Jesse Arreguín said he was not opposed to the project, but thought that an EIR would be prudent.

Several councilmembers did acknowledge opposition from neighbors. But they said that would change.

“I understand the concerns of the neighbors,” said Councilmember Susan Wengraf. “This is a big project and it will be a change. But Shattuck Avenue is a very wide street and five stories is not too tall for Shattuck to handle. The project also steps down to three stories on Parker. There will be more people in the neighborhood, but I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing.”

“I think this is an excellent project,” said Mayor Tom Bates. “Once it’s built, once it’s happened, I don’t think the impact will be as great as people imagine. People are afraid of the change that will occur. I think this will be a positive thing.”

The council approved the use permit eight yeses and one abstention (Arreguín).

Kashani said he remained confident that Parker Place will eventually be completed.

“This project will get built, just as many other projects delayed by unjustified court actions get built,” he said. “I just have to remind myself to be patient.”

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  • Flatland Homeowner

    There’s the red herring swimming by again.

    She is welcome to own a home in Berkeley.  I don’t know whom you are referring to, but perhaps it’s because she’s a homeowner in Berkeley that she is a prominent opponent.

  • Bruce Love

    I believe you are missing his argument which is more about planning as relates to economic development.   If we accept that there are some forms of housing that favor the university community much more than other groups, and if our public policy is to build as much of that as we can, then apparently our economic development policy is something about a continued expansion of Cal and LBNL as portions of the economy and tenants on the land.   If that expansion is poor policy — which is quite plausible, property tax being but one reason —  and if it is true that our policies favor housing premised on that expansion, then our housing project policies are therefore defective as well.

  • http://radar.oreilly.com/2007/09/local-recycle-reuse-hits-a-bur.html The Sharkey

    Virtually every architectural ornament that exists was considered a “gimmick” when it was new. I’ll take a building like this with a tasteful color scheme over that goldenrod monstrosity that Trader Joe’s is in.

    In a perfect world would I prefer a more traditional building? Sure. But more traditional buildings cost a lot more to build. All them cornices and sills and moldings ain’t free you know.

    :-)

  • Charles_Siegel

    “Virtually every architectural ornament that exists was considered a “gimmick” when it was new.”

    Sharkey, that is not true.  I am afraid you don’t know the history of architecture.

    You are damning this building with faint praise if the best you can say about it is:
    — It is a bland design that is made less bland by orange stripes.
    — It is not as bad as the Trader Joes building, which you apparently consider the ugliest building in Berkeley.

  • Lhasa7

    This isn’t exactly the Parthenon… I wouldn’t want this monstrosity in anyone’s back yard, or front yard for that matter.

  • Lhasa7

    I don’t cringe every time I pass Trader Joe’s. I can’t imagine passing this structure without a deep feeling of regret and disgust.

  • Bruce Love

    Berkeley architecture of the late 20th and early 21st century: the sculpture garden of imagined but unachievable futures.  Much of the comment discourse on this project and others reminds me of a story by William Gibson: http://lib.ru/GIBSON/r_contin.txt

    “Los Angeles was a bad idea, and I spent two weeks there.”

  • Becky O’Malley

    Nah–prior restraint on speech is frowned on by the First Amendment, and believe it or not I’ve had much worse, but thanks for asking.

  • Toni Mester

    I’m happy that my comments elicited substantive responses from Eric and Mark, which is the kind of responsible discussion that is healthy for the communit , and I’m sorry that I don’t have time to research and comment further in detail at this time. I’m a college teacher by trade, and it’s the beginning of the semester. It is the responsibility of government to protect private property rights, and zoning should be fair and balanced. Right now, the City has University Avenue zoned to protect adjacent neighborhoods and less protective zoning on comparable commercial corridors. This violates the principle of equal protection under the law, and although the 14th amendment was not intended to protect private property, the 5th was. There’s a house on Acton Street that is obviously devalued by Acton Court, but I presume the owner, like most flatlanders, didn’t have the financial resources to hire a lawyer or was paid off by the developer. This intrusion into the neighborhoods led to the University Avenue plan, which should be a model for the other corridors. And we could further improve the zoning to create more value, not less. The Council authorized a San Pablo Avenue plan 6 years ago, and it’s time to get going.

  • Charles_Siegel

    I don’t think that Berkeley’s housing policies will have any effect one way or another on UC’s plans for growth.  Do you know of anyone planning UC’s future expansion who is taking this into account?

    If there is not enough housing in Berkeley for UC students or employees, then some will rent existing houses in Berkeley, and others will just live outside of Berkeley.  The results of limiting housing are:

    — A housing shortage in Berkeley that affects everyone.  More students will want to share rentals in existing houses, and that extra demand will drive up rents on houses, so they are no longer affordable to moderate income families.

    — Inconvenience for many people who have to commute longer distances to UC.

    — More commuters driving into Berkeley, which means more traffic congestion and fossil fuel consumption.

  • libraterian

    Whatever one thinks of the politics or aesthetics of this project, it has nearly survived the process. An exceptional feat in itself. One which only very experienced, well connected and funded parties would attempt in Berkeley. And that’s the problem. A process this tortuous and tortious leaves only few wise guys who know how to survive the years long battling and still make a profit from developing these sites. You want variety, make the process less onerous.

  • http://radar.oreilly.com/2007/09/local-recycle-reuse-hits-a-bur.html The Sharkey

    I know a lot more about it than you give me credit for, Chuck.
    What is traditional now was new at some point in the past, and anything new in any field always has people like you who react against it.

    Yes, this building is boring.
    But it’s better than what’s there right now, and it’s been approved.

    So why waste time whining about it?

  • EBGuy

    Talk about cleaning up the block — this would be an amazing change.  Berkeleyside, can you dig up any more info?   I also saw so some supporting document on the internets (which, of course, I can’t find at this point)  that indicated Berkeley Honda might be leasing the old McNevin VW site.  

  • Jacob Lynn

    Sorry… you think families in the past had _fewer_ children? This is obviously false. They just had less crap, and didn’t mind if kids had to share a room.

  • Jacob Lynn

    One way to fix this is to charge for on-street parking.

  • Jacob Lynn

    “To be perfectly honest, as much as I tend to agree with the premises/goals of the infill movement (curtailing sprawl, contributing to economic diversity, etc) those were not my foremost concerns.  I just think Parker Place will make the neighborhood better. ”

    I liked your post — just wanted to point out that the New Urbanists/Smart Growth/Strong Towns people think that curtailing sprawl and contributing to economic diversity will do exactly that — “make the neighborhood better.”

    I also agree that the Modernist look makes enemies it wouldn’t have otherwise had. I mean, it looks kinda neat, and I would like to live there, but I think it adds to the political difficulties without adding any actual value, and in fact detracting somewhat from the urban fabric.

  • Jacob Lynn

    I lived in “lower-density” housing in the flatlands for the first couple of years of graduate school at Berkeley, and moved a year ago to a much smaller apartment on Southside because I like walking to work. Love it, although I’m further from the farmer’s market now.

  • Laurie Baumgarten

    Why do these projects have to be so darn uninteresting and ugly? It’s as if we had no architectural aesthetics in this city at all, and yet we claim to be a well-educated community and have within our midst a first class University with no less, a school of architecture!