Urban planning

Decision on project at Durant, Channing delayed

The view, looking west from Channing Way toward Durant Avenue, of a development proposed in downtown Berkeley. Photo: Emilie Raguso

The view, looking north from Channing Way toward Durant Avenue, of a housing development proposed in downtown Berkeley. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Berkeley commissioners have postponed their vote on a project planned for Durant Avenue and Channing Way after the developer said he would reduce its scale following a recent decision by council to lower fees related to affordable housing requirements.

Developer William F. Schrader Jr. — of Alamo-based The Austin Group — presented the project to the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board on Thursday night. The project has been before the city’s Design Review Committee four times, but Thursday was its first time before the ZAB. The development has frontage at both 2024 Durant Ave. and 2025 Channing Way, and would include 78 one-, two- and three-bedroom units, along with 36 parking spaces, said Schrader.

The project — underway since May 2011 — spans two lots between Channing and Durant; on the south side, a deed restriction limits the height of the building to four stories. The north side of the property, fronting Durant, is proposed to include six stories, and reach 60 feet at the roof. A church at 2024 Durant would be demolished to make way for the new development, though its steeple, said the developer, will be displayed as public art on the new site.

Schrader came to Thursday night’s meeting having submitted plans for an eight-story structure on the Durant side. But he told commissioners that he is ready to reduce the height to six stories because of a recent City Council decision related to affordable housing requirements. Schrader said he had planned to build to eight stories and include affordable housing in the project when the fee was $28,000 per unit; but when the fee was reduced to $20,000 per unit in February, he said it made more financial sense to pay into the city’s Housing Trust Fund — to the tune of $1.4 million — instead.

Council members who supported lowering the fee said one of the city’s goals is to encourage developers to pay into the housing fund, rather than build their own decentralized units. A city staffer noted Thursday night that, with money in the housing fund, the city can build three times as many units as a developer would build with the same amount of money. Council members also said the lower fee would have the added benefit of keeping heights down around the city, which would reduce conflicts with neighbors.

“I have always, from the beginning, wanted to build a six-story building,” Schrader told the board. “But we couldn’t swallow the $28,000 fee.”

Nearby neighbors who spoke during the public comment period said, even at six stories, the project is still too tall. Berkeley resident Stephen Stine told the board that he has collected 240 signatures in support of a three-story building. Other residents described the project as “wanton,” “rapacious” and “a behemoth.”

Residents raised concerns about noise and dust during construction, and said the development would be out of scale with the neighborhood. They also said the project will potentially clash with senior housing next door at 2020 Durant, as many of the new rentals — the developer estimated 60% — will be inhabited by students. (See a presentation from project critics here.)

Neighbors also said street parking is already too hard, and that the project doesn’t include a realistic number of spaces in the building. A man who said he was a 29-year resident of Channing described the project as a “parking disaster in the making.”

Developers said all the project’s criteria, including parking spots, conform to city code requirements. Schrader told the board that, in fact, the development includes 10-13 more parking spaces than the city even requires.

Commissioners expressed mixed views on the project. Bob Allen said he was “frankly thrilled” to see the six-story project rather than the eight-story version. Igor Tregub, too, said the smaller building is “a significant step forward.” Acting Chair Deborah Matthews said she was concerned about so many students living next door to seniors, and Commissioner Sophie Hahn responded that such relationships can be a community benefit, if they’re properly fostered.

Allen noted that the developer had made concessions to help respond to potential issues related to seniors, such as eliminating balconies from the building next to the senior housing; including a live-in manager on the property; and setting off smaller spaces on the roof so it wouldn’t turn into a large party zone. (Allen has been involved with earlier discussions on the project because he’s also a member of the Design Review Committee.)

Commissioner Elisa Mikiten raised a number of concerns, both large and small, about the project. She said she thought the site was perhaps zoned incorrectly, and criticized the design of the actual units, questioning whether they were up to city code.

“I’m not comfortable with these units,” she told her colleagues. “I wouldn’t vote for this.”

Commissioners agreed to delay their decision on whether to approve the project until March 14 so Schrader can submit new plans that reflect the six-story version of the development.

Related:
Berkeley zoning board approves 78-unit Durant [03.15.13]
First high rise in 40 years proposed for downtown Berkeley [12.21.12]
Council sets fee for affordable housing mitigation [10.18.12]
New mixed-use building going up at Telegraph and Ashby [09.12.12]
Acheson Commons: Large change for downtown [04.12.12]
Parker Place wins council approval [01.18.12]

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  • The_Sharkey

    Wow, those scale models really eviscerate the arguments that these buildings would be “out of scale” with the neighborhood.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Yup, it’s hard to call it a “wanton rapacious behemoth” when that appears to be true of the surrounding structures as well. I *love* that description, by the way: the rhetoric is as out of proportion as they claim the building would be.

    Maybe the woman who wrote the Not So Big House could write a new title: Designing the Wanton Rapacious Behemoth.

  • Bill Newton

    Looks like a good in-fill project to me though if I lived in the apt units on either side I might like it 3 or 4 stories.. The lot across from the Toyota Dealer’s shop has been vacant for some time and the large apt houses (see the 2 big apt houses on Durant) on the block will keep it in-scale with the neighborhood. It’s ALL metered parking there so that should change anything about the parking,

  • SarahS

    One of the major objections is that the development will block sunlight for most of the day to units of the senior housing on the lower floors. Many of those apartments have access to light and air circulation only through windows facing the nearby walls of the new development. I wonder how those mocking opponents would feel if they had to live in such a sunless space. Of course, if it doesn’t hurt me, I couldn’t care less, right? That’s the new American way! Empathy is out of fashion, even in so-called “liberal” Berkeley.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    In that configuration, ANY building at all — two stories, three stories, six stories — will block sunlight on the lower floors. Is it your position that the owners should be barred from building anything at all? That’s hardly fair.

  • The_Sharkey

    Unless I’ve missed something major, I don’t think there’s any part of this development that proposes boarding up anyone’s windows or doors.

    Light is still light, even if it’s indirect. Air still circulates, even between buildings. It’s pretty neat how that works.

  • Hyper_lexic

    I’m always mystified by the property on the east side of Shattuck between Parker and Carleton – always seems to be a highly underutilized property.

  • EBGuy

    At 8 stories, it was a bit out of scale with the surrounding buildings. The developers have offered significant concessions, including dropping to 6 stories. I frequently drive by the Channing vacant lot, and the building will be a welcome addition to the neighborhood. I hope the commissioners vote in the affirmative next time around.

  • EBGuy

    You do have to love Berkeley, with it’s own unique twist on the Nimby. In other municipalities, it’s usually a Prop 13 entitled homeowner leading the charge. In Berkeley, you have folks with a decade and a half of rent control under their belts railing against new buildings. Does this sound familiar (see TJs)? I’m not complaining (yet), as we’re getting a better design out of the process. I just hope it doesn’t end up delayed forever or in litigation limbo like Parker Place.

  • Insider

    The owner has juice with the current and retired planning department staff.

  • kstine

    When this project was submitted with the Durant portion at 8 stories, it was clearly outsized for the neighborhood. Now, with the Durant portion at 6 stories, it is still a double-lot building which will bring an influx of traffic and parking concerns to the neighborhood. In is markedly uncommon for a double-lot building of this scale to be built directly adjacent to an R-3 residential neighborhood and this building’s size and footprint will a) have a major impact on amount of both direct sunlight and indirect light that makes it into the surrounding, residential buildings and b) create an excessive amount of construction noise and pollution for those who live next door. Most significantly, with the Durant portion at 6 stories, the senior residents of Stuart Pratt Manor, directly adjacent to the west, will experience severely diminished access to both direct sunlight and indirect light. Additionally, they will conceivably and understandably be put in a position to keep their balcony door/windows shut to keep out noise and curtains drawn to maintain privacy. This is not your average “NIMBY” scenario. These are seniors who cannot afford to move and the vast majority of those who live along the east-facing side of the building live in single-room studio units with just one balcony door/window. The developer and architect have made very few adjustments to their design that will adequately or sensitively address the senior neighbors’ concerns and this article omits the fact that there are still balconies in the design at hand that look directly into the seniors apartments, which will be transformed into fishbowls. We owe our elders more than what this project proposes.

  • John Parman

    When a building falls between two parallel streets, it would be helpful to identify the cross streets.

  • emraguso

    It’s between Milvia Street and Shattuck Avenue. Point appreciated.

  • loaf

    Solar access is a big deal, but the first floor of a building that’s against the setbacks is hardly entitled to it.

  • The_Sharkey

    No, I would argue that this is just your average NIMBY scenario. Plain old anti-development and anti-student attitudes using concern trolling for seniors to try to give their arguments more merit.

  • Charles_Siegel

    The article says: “Allen noted that the developer had made concessions to help respond to
    potential issues related to seniors, such as eliminating balconies from
    the building next to the senior housing;”

    Is this totally untrue? Have they eliminated some of the balconies? Most of the balconies?

  • kstine

    The developer and architect eliminated some, not all, of the balconies on the west side of the proposed construction. Opposition to this propoeed project is not as simple as town/gown, seniors’ well-being vs students’ need for housing. The proposed project relies on numerous exceptional use permits and conditions and has simply not been conceived with sensitivity to surrounding neighbors.

  • Guest

    The proposed building is definitely not welcomed by the neighborhood, at least not by those who live here. Yes, you can wedge it in, but six stories across two blocks is hugely out of proportion to any other structure. We were zoned for three stories and that level is much more appropriate for residential use and enjoyment, which is the intent of zoning in the first place. Just because they can request a waiver doesn’t mean it should be automatically granted.

  • Reader

    Shouting “NIMBY!” whenever anyone has any objection of any kind to any building project, even those which ask for lots of variances from rules which should apply to all, is the sign of a limited imagination.

  • Charles_Siegel

    Another question: kstine wrote above that this project required numerous “use permits.” Reader says it requires “lots of variances.” Which one is it? Does the project require use permits, variances, or both?

    There is a big difference:

    A use permit is for features that the zoning law does allow, as long as there is a use permit.

    A variance is for features that the zoning law does not allow.

  • Charles_Siegel

    I think it is reasonable to protect the neighbors’ privacy and quiet by removing all balconies that face the senior housing.

    Generally, I think that the project is consistent with its surroundings and should (and will) be approved with pretty much the massing that is now proposed. I do think we should tweak the design to protect the neighbors as much as possible, for example by removing balconies.

  • The_Sharkey

    A six-story building is out of proportion next to a six story building?

    Wow.

  • The_Sharkey

    While I understand some of the complaints about he original design, the current complaints saying that a six-story building is “out of proportion” next to two other six-story buildings are mind-boggling.

  • The_Sharkey

    Balconies for seniors, not for students!

  • Charles_Siegel

    Two responses:

    1. The senior housing was built when there were not other apartments facing it, a short distance away, so there was no reason to restrict balconies. You have noise problems with two buildings with balconies facing each other that you don’t have with one building with balconies.

    2. If you had a balcony across from your bedroom, would you rather have that balcony used by kvetching seniors or by partying students? I used to have students across from me who would start their parties Friday night at 10 PM, and there was much more noise because the parties spilled over onto their balcony.

    If there are no balconies and double-paned windows, you can reduce noise dramatically. If this building does not already plan to have double-paned windows, I would recommend that as another mitigation to protect the neighbors from noise (as well as to conserve energy).

  • The_Sharkey

    1.) This assumes that the balconies will be used at all. Most balconies in Berkeley are vacant, or used for storage.

    2.) I wouldn’t care, really. It’s none of my business what other people do or don’t do on their balconies, as long as they don’t violate any local ordinances or building-specific rules while doing so. The situation you’re describing sounds like it would have violated local noise ordinances. You should have asked your neighbors to keep it inside, or called called BPD about it if they refused.

  • EBGuy

    I’m assuming you’re referring to the balconies along the lot line, located at the southeast corner of the plaza (as they still appear to be in the model that was presented). I must admit I’m sympathetic to the noise concerns presented by their location. In my letter of support for the project, I will note that these should be eliminated.

  • berkeleyseniorzoning

    This article and the Daily Cal article miss some of the most important points:

    1) The Downtown Area Plan ordered 2024 Durant, which had been zoned as R-4 since 1999, to be downzoned from R-4 to R-3, with a maximum building height of three stories. The May 2011 draft of the DAP showed 2024 Durant as properly downzoned to R-3 zoning, in accordance with Policy LU-7.1

    (see the draft DAP at: http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/uploadedFiles/Planning_and_Development/DAP/3-LandUse_110504.pdf)

    (see the previous zoning map at: http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/uploadedImages/IT/Level_3_-_General/ZoningMapplatespage6color20050215.gif)

    The owner of 2024 Durant wrote one letter to the city asking for 2024 Durant to be upzoned to C-DMU commercial mixed use zoning instead of being downzoned to R-3 residential zoning, which the city granted, in violation of the Downtown Area Plan, without notifying or otherwise consulting any of the neighbors. It’s apparently so easy to effect an illegitimate land grab and to violate the Downtown Area Plan, which the citizens of Berkeley negotiated on for seven years, and which the citizens of Berkeley voted for–just write one letter to the city, and your neighbors’ rights can easily be taken away! Note that the upzoning is not mentioned, labeled, or even authorized in the final DAP document.

    Here is the clear, unambiguous text of Goal LU-7 Policy LU-7.1, existing policies which the upzoning clearly violate:

    “GOAL LU-7: MAINTAIN THE EXISTING SCALE AND CHARACTER OF RESIDENTIAL-ONLY AREAS.

    Policy LU-7.1: Neighborhood Protections.

    Seek to reduce development pressures in residential-only areas, to promote the preservation and rehabilitation of older structures – and to conserve the scale of their historic fabric (see Policy HD-1.5).

    a) Maintain the R-2A zoning designation and downzone R-4 areas to R-3 (as shown in Figure LU-1), except for the north side of Dwight Way east of Shattuck Avenue.”

    (see the final DAP document at: http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/uploadedFiles/Planning_and_Development/Level_3_-_DAP/FINAL_x-DAP%20document_120329.pdf)

    2024 Durant is now in nonconformance with the explicit goals and policies of the Downtown Area Plan, against the will of the voters of Berkeley and against the wishes of the neighbors and at the expense of the low-income seniors of Berkeley. The upzoning should not have been granted, as it exactly goes against the explicit visions, goals, and policies for this neighborhood, that future construction be limited to three stories to protect the scale and character of the neighborhood. The upzoning sets a terrible policy precedent for the city of Berkeley and projects under the Downtown Area Plan. The Berkeley City Council should be ashamed that such behind-the-scenes zoning exceptions are so easily granted to profit a single landowner and developer against the express goals and policies of the Downtown Area Plan. This is turning out to be an undemocratic, non-transparent issue, at the expense of the seniors and other residential neighbors.

    2) The developer is using state density bonus law as a threat to suppress community opposition to his project. He has repeatedly told us that if we oppose or appeal his six story project, he will push for the eight story version under state density bonus law. So if ZAB approves the six story project, he can at any time request two additional stories and the city cannot deny them, under state law. So he still wields this threat–it is up to ZAB to decide that the project is inappropriate for the neighborhood in light of the explicit goals and policies of the Downtown Area Plan and to reject the project or otherwise limit it to three stories. Otherwise every developer from here on out can also use the state density bonus law as a threat against neighbors–e.g., don’t oppose our three story project, or we’ll make it five using state density bonus law…

  • berkeleyseniorzoning

    Right next door to the east, the Staples parking lot is zero stories. Right next door to the parking lot, to the east, Staples is one story. To the south is also zero stories, and any building there will be limited to four stories. The senior home itself is five stories on the scale of “The Durant.” To the north is four stories, to the northeast is three stories, also to the northeast is Hustead’s, which is one story. The average height is three stories or less.

    More importantly, the Downtown Area Plan’s vision for the neighborhood is that in the future, the whole neighborhood will be only three stories–see Goal LU-7 Policy LU-7.1. This is the explicit compromise of the DAP: increased density and building heights in the “Core” near Center and on the “Corridor” on Shattuck, in exchange for decreased densities and building heights in this outlying residential neighborhood. 2024 Durant is in the middle of the block, it’s not on Shattuck, it was always R-4 residential, it should not have been upzoned to C-DMU, the upzoning violates Policy LU-7.1

    So, no, the six stories definitely does not fit the neighborhood–look at Goal LU-7 and Policy LU-7.1, and at the average height of the surrounding buildings.

  • MM

    If I remember correctly, there was an article a while back (maybe in the Daily Planet or some such local paper) that said that that property was owned by Reza Vallye, who owns lots of property and has been cited many times for illegal construction. Vallye said that he was keeping that property just in case some day BART would decide to build a station there – is that ridiculous or what? I think that the city ought to be able to take such properties by eminent domain and turn them into something useful.

  • Guest

    It is when you consider that the senior housing six story building has long been positioned next to a low church property. This was an intentional design to protect their well being. I would not want a highrise directly in front of my only window, would you? And parking for all the neighbors will be severely encroached upon. We are zoned for lower, let’s keep it lower.

  • MM

    Maybe properties like Staples should be expanded. It’s sort of wasteful to have one-story buildings and ground-level parking lots in downtown areas. Yes, we need zoning laws and height limits, but we also need jobs and services.

  • Charles_Siegel

    1) Most are not used, but some are. I have four balconies opposite me, and there is usually one of them that is actively used. With all the balconies planned for this development, some will inevitably be used at any time.

    2) They were just standing on the balcony talking, so I don’t think they were violating ordinances. But when a half-dozen people stand on the balcony talking, and when they keep the patio door open so you can also hear the dozens of people in the apartment talking, the noise adds up.

  • Watchful

    Just because there are already buildings here does not automatically mean it’s a good idea to in-fill with another larger complex. Dropping in an additional “78 one-, two- and three-bedroom units with 36 parking places” will most certainly mean increased competition for parking which incidentally effects not only residents but also those shopping on Shattuck and those with Handicapped Placards. Development always looks good from somewhere else but those of us who do live here can immediately see the multiple problems it will cause.

  • Charles_Siegel

    It will cause some problems for people looking for parking spaces, but it will make life easier for people who want to be able to live near UC so they can get there by walking or bicycling. Overall, I think there will be an increase in convenience.

    And there will clearly be an environmental benefit in shifting to a more pedestrian, bicycle, and transit-oriented city.

  • Mbfarrell

    Maybe the City will think your home is “underdeveloped” and take it by eminent domain so a developer can build a shopping mall.

  • EBGuy

    I have no problem with the developer dangling the sword of Damocles (note: gross misappropriation of a classical reference) to keep the project moving forward. The threat of a lawsuit regarding the zoning is your currency in this negotiation. I strongly urge you to use this leverage to help make this a better project (and not oppose it outright). They’re, I believe, financially incentivized to build five wooden stories over a concrete podium (and not anything taller). YMMV.

  • The_Sharkey

    This was an intentional design to protect their well being.

    Ok, can you link me to some evidence of this? If zoning is lower, why was the senior housing allowed to be built so high in the first place?

  • The_Sharkey

    So, no, the six stories definitely does not fit the neighborhood…

    Except for the six-story buildings directly adjacent to the two lots being considered, right? But those don’t count. I got mine so screw everybody else, right?

  • The_Sharkey

    There’s a huge difference between a property being used as a home and abandoned buildings adding to urban blight.

    But if you want to make yourself look like a fool by pretending otherwise, go right ahead.

  • The_Sharkey

    There are six-story apartment buildings directly adjacent to both lots under consideration, so six-story apartment buildings maintain the character and scale of this residential area.

  • Daniel Gies

    I don’t know, it seems to me the project is in character with its neighbors. Comparing it with the vacant lot they plan to build on is pretty specious logic. They’re proposing a 4-6 story structure right next to a bunch of 4 and 5 story structures. If anything we should be ENCOURAGING high density development near transit corridors.

  • handsoffmahparkin

    If a sensible infill project like this can’t get built in downtown Berkeley then the Bay Area is doomed. While NIMBYs are up in arms over possibly losing their easy on-street parking people are leaving in droves for more affordable housing markets like Texas.

  • MM

    No, my home is occupied and in good condition. That property has been vacant for many years, except for the stereo installation store one one corner, and to say that it is an eyesore is an understatement. If you’re not familiar with the property, go take a look.

  • AChanningNeighbor

    I live right next door to the proposed site, and as far as I’m concerned, they can’t build this soon enough! It looks like a high quality project, and, frankly, just about anything would be better than the trash, old furniture, parked cars, and graffiti that currently occupy the vacant lot where half the building would go.

    I have to laugh at the people who complain that the building is ‘out of scale’…right in the middle of a whole block of other 3-6 story apartment buildings. We’re not out in the suburbs. This is half a block off of Shattuck, practically downtown. With the new concessions by the developer, I hope the project is approved soon, before the NIMBYs chase him off and we’re stuck with the trash dump next door for another 5 or 10 years.