The Zoning Adjustments Board approved a new 78-unit apartment building for downtown Berkeley in a 5-2-1 vote Thursday night.
But opponents of the plan, who have criticized the new building’s potential impacts on its neighbors, say they will definitely appeal the decision to the City Council.
The building, called “The Durant,” is set to have frontage on both Durant Avenue and Channing Way; it’s set mid-block between Shattuck Avenue and Milvia Street. The south side of the building is proposed to rise to four stories, and the north side to reach six. (The developer had originally proposed eight stories on the north side but recently reduced it to six after the City Council lowered fees relating to affordable housing requirements.)
Commissioners Deborah Matthews, George Williams, Robert Allen, Steven Donaldson and Igor Tregub voted yes to approve the project, while Elisa Mikiten and Sophie Hahn voted against it. Chairman Michael Alvarez Cohen abstained from the vote because he did not attend the prior meeting and said he hadn’t had time to review the public testimony.
Developer William Schrader Jr. said he believes that 70-80% of the building’s units will be occupied, at least at first, by students. The project includes 34 parking spaces, which Schrader said is 30% more than the city code requires. The project also features four electric car-charging stations, two car-share parking spots and 40 bike parking spaces. Residents will receive AC Transit passes in accordance with Berkeley’s Downtown Area Plan. The project will not include below-market-rate units, but will send $1.5 million into the city’s Housing Trust Fund.
Opponents of the project say it will be problematic for seniors who live next door at 2020 Durant, at Stuart Pratt Manor, reducing their sunlight and privacy, and posing associated health hazards. They criticized the floor plans and asked the board to delay its decision to a future date so the developer could make adjustments that might lessen impacts on seniors. (See their presentation to the board as a PDF.)
“We owe our seniors more,” said Kathryn Stine who, along with her husband Stephen, said they were shocked at the board’s decision and “absolutely” plan to file an appeal. Stephen Stine said his mother lives at Stuart Pratt, and that he represents the interests of many of the seniors in the building. He said many of them do not speak English and could not attend the meeting because of accessibility issues and the language barrier.
Commissioner Mikiten said that, though the project appeared to be in line with the city’s General Plan, the layout of the units left much to be desired. She described them as “quite dark” and “cramped,” with an inefficient use of space. “I’m not convinced that your architect is done,” she told the developer. “This is not attractive space in any way; I do think 20 years down the line this is going to be a blighted building.”
Commissioner Hahn agreed, adding that the layout of the units was “not conducive to family living.” She said she had “very serious concerns,” particularly in relation to impacts on sunlight for nearby residents and the “detriment to neighbors” overall.
Hahn asked her fellow commissioners to delay their decision and direct the developer to come back with designs that would allow more light to fall on neighboring buildings and re-think unit layouts. But only Commissioner Tregub voted in support of her idea.
Commissioner Allen took issue with Hahn’s request, saying it would have thrown the approval process “into chaos.” (The city’s Design Review Committee, on which Allen sits, discussed the plans four times between July and December 2012.)
“How can we get anything built in this town if this is what the applicant has to go through to get a building?” he asked. “I think it’s wrong.”
Commissioners said they hope the building’s on-site manager does appropriate outreach, to neighbors and local police, so that anyone with complaints about noise or behavior has ready access to swift action. Several said they’d also like to see the developer find ways to create positive relationships between student tenants and seniors next door. One idea that came up was a shared yard space behind the properties that could potentially lead to opportunities for connections.
Commissioner Tregub said his vote to approve the developer’s plans was purely in the interest of pragmatism, and that he hoped the City Council would take seriously the concerns that had come up in relation to the project.
“The outcome of this vote is not going to determine that much,” he said. “It seems clear this is going to be appealed to council one way or another.”
Decision on project at Durant, Channing delayed [03.04.13]
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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