Acheson Commons sent back to Berkeley zoning board

Acheson Commons is a mixed-use development planned at University and Shattuck. Image: Rhoades Planning Group

Acheson Commons is a mixed-use development planned at University and Shattuck. Image: Kirk Peterson Architects

A 205-unit apartment complex planned for downtown Berkeley is going back to the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board after an appeal before the City Council on Tuesday night.

Acheson Commons, at 2133 University Ave., was approved by the zoning board in December, but appellants questioned numerous aspects of the project and the council voted unanimously to ask the board to take another look. (See project materials on the city website. The complete administrative record is available here.)

According to the staff report prepared for Tuesday’s special session, the project is set to increase annual tax revenue by $57,000 and bring in $360,000 to support the city’s Streets and Open Space Improvement Plan. (Update, 1 p.m.: A representative for the developer, Mark Rhoades, said the per-year tax basis increase is closer to $600,000. Scroll down to see a chart of the five-year financial projections he provided.)

The 48,122-square-foot project site includes the MacFarlane Building on Shattuck and University; the Krishna Copy Center building on University; the Crepes a Go-Go building on University; the Acheson Physicians building on University; the Ace Hardware building on University; and two homes on Walnut Street.

The project involves the construction of 205 apartments and the rehabilitation of 34,000 square feet of commercial space. Nearly 17,000 square feet of existing office space would be removed from the site. According to the city staff report, historic buildings and façades along University would be retained and rehabilitated. The homes on Walnut would be relocated and replaced by ground-floor parking with residential units above.

As it stands, the parking garage would include 48 stalls (74 spaces if triple-level lifts are installed), which would be the only on-site parking included in the project. Twenty-two of those spaces would be available for commercial use. The developer has indicated a preference to pay in-lieu fees for the other 40 parking spots required by zoning rules. (The city has not set the exact fee per spot, but officials have determined that it could not be higher than $28,000.)

The project was first submitted to the city in June 2010.

Appellants submitted a list to the city in January outlining 10 sticking points in the project plans. Attorney Ellen Trescott, speaking on behalf of the appellants, argued that the project doesn’t include enough parking spots; that the building will be too tall; and that existing rent-controlled units in the project should not be eliminated, among other issues. She also took issue with staff analysis of the project elements.

“There are loose ends here that the ZAB needs to reconsider,” she told the council.

About 50 members of local labor organizations attended the meeting due to a disagreement about how the developer plans to handle its construction jobs; they were represented by Andreas Cluver of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Alameda County. Cluver said the project, as it stands, won’t benefit the community.

A rendering of the Acheson Commons project at University and Shattuck avenues.

A rendering of the Acheson Commons project at University and Shattuck avenues.

Acheson Commons representative  said the labor issues “aren’t really part” of the project because the piece of the Downtown Area Plan that sets labor standards, the Green Pathway project guidelines, is tied up in litigation.

But he told the council that, regardless, “This project does do everything that the plan asks for. Everything and then some.”

Councilman  called the project a “fiasco” and said it had united Berkeley residents (those for and against the ), environmentalists, affordable housing advocates and union members against it.

“I have a hard time remembering when was the last time that all of these groups said ‘Don’t do something,'” he said. “It’s an incredible accomplishment for so many groups to say this project is not ready for primetime.”

Councilman  noted that the zoning board unanimously approved the project (other than one commissioner who was absent), and that its members represent a range of community views. He said the challenge will be finding the right balance between the needs of the developer and the needs of the city, and urged parties to negotiate “in good faith” going forward.

“If you make (the demands) too high and the developer just goes to Oakland, you don’t get any benefits, or increases in the tax base. You can’t have everything and still have a project go forward,” he said.

Mark Rhoades provided this financial analysis and said the project will also create more than 100 two-year construction jobs as well as 60 new permanent jobs.

Mark Rhoades provided this financial analysis and said the project will also create more than 100 two-year construction jobs as well as 60 new permanent jobs.

Councilman  said he was especially concerned about the future of the rent-controlled units, and said it would be important for officials to ensure that the city “gets all the benefits” and that “we’re realizing the goals of what we wanted to achieve when we adopted the Downtown Plan.”

Union concerns and job prospects were key for Councilman , who said project benefits had been “relegated to handshake agreements and winks, while the details and real rigors of the project are signed in hard-written copies of things.” Anderson said it would be unwise for the city to trust developers, “who are oriented toward making money and don’t want to share,” to do the right thing for the city or its residents. “We better start taking a real look at a lot of these projects,” he concluded, to see whether they’ll serve the greater good or just the needs of the few.

Other council members said they were concerned about the parking and height issues, as well as the future of Ace Hardware.

 said, even without the Green Pathway agreements, 60% of the project’s jobs will be union positions. He said, going forward, it will be important for the zoning board to “bring back something we can build.”

“If Berkeley gets a reputation where you can’t do business,” he concluded, “then everybody loses, everybody fails.”

1,000 new apartments planned for downtown Berkeley [02.07.13]
Ace Hardware will not move to Andronico’s old space [09.18.12]
Two Berkeley brown shingles for sale. Price: $1 each [07.19.12]
Acheson Commons: Large change for downtown [04.09.12]

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  • destroy_all_monsters

    Let’s say for the sake of argument the development of the Target store gets built. Target stores typically either have or are near (as in the case of the City Target you linked to) large parking lots. A chunk of those lots is used by the employees. Target stores are typically open late when there are fewer transit options. I don’t think that claiming that even say 10 spaces for their employees (depending on the footprint of said Target) is necessarily out of whack. That leaves 20 or so spaces for 200+ tenants and other vendors that need to park.

    If the lot the Brazilian place is on gets a high rise parking structure then I can see how this might work (it would be sad about the restaurant – and likely an eyesore).

  • destroy_all_monsters

    Are there two Sharkeys?

  • guest

    Some people have a hard time realizing that everyone doesn’t need to cater to their needs and everything isn’t about them.

  • Charles_Siegel

    I did not say all blue collar people should live in the burbs. Do you really think that students would move way out to the burbs if this building were not built?

    There is lots of existing housing in Berkeley where you live if you want to be able to both walk and drive. That is the housing these students would be competing for. Of course, a group of students can pay more for the same house than a working class family, so having the students bidding up the price of housing drives more working class families out of Berkeley to more car dependent neighborhoods.

    Note the contradiction in your argument. You claim that you don’t want to force people to live in the burbs, but you are against building this added housing in the city, which would mean fewer people forced to live in the burbs.

    Your argument would make some sense if you were really in favor of this development with more parking. But you have made so many scatter-shot arguments against this development that it is obvious to everyone that you do not want it built at all. In other words, you want to drive more people out to the burbs where they have to drive on every trip. I should not waste my time responding to someone who argues in this intellectually dishonest way.

  • destroy_all_monsters

    As far as this development goes I’m on the fence. It looks immense from the pictures and I’m more than a little concerned about how it will affect parking in the area and whether or not any large store will be able to benefit from it (whether it’s a City Target, Berkeley Hardware or whatever). For me it depends on the mix as I think it does for most people. All development is neither good nor bad but I think it’s incumbent on all of us to make our concerns known.

    I’m not against new housing per se – of course there are degrees. We should consider the impact. Parking is a problem for most of the city – even the residential areas.

    “Of course, a group of students can pay more for the same house than a working class family, so having the students bidding up the price of housing drives more working class families out of Berkeley to more car dependent neighborhoods.”

    Agreed. We need more housing – but I’m not sure that this project is the right one. I don’t think we (that is – the public) should rubber stamp all development for the sake of it whether it has housing or not.

    This is a huge development – and it will change the skyline dramatically. It will have an impact on parking and local commerce. I don’t think any of us would be overly concerned if this was further out of the downtown space. In order for something this large to be built it needs to provide large benefits to everyone. I have some real concerns about how we seem to be moving away from a 4 story limit downtown and what looks like a fairly regular exception to that rule.

    If my arguments are scattershot that’s because I don’t think terribly linearly not because I have a desired outcome.

  • destroy_all_monsters

    That depends. If the triple lifts get built and that’s listed as a requirement then it might well be realistic. A good number of those spots would still go to business owners and employees though. I don’t know what downsides there are to the lifts.

    Edited to add: I’m not seeing the size of the rooms for rent. If it ends up being 3 to a room then even the lifts might not be sufficient.

  • Prinzrob

    No, you were complaining that a development in an inherently transit-centric area is being proposed with minimal parking while calling people who disagree with you “classist”, and I am trying to point out that the complaint is unfounded while trying to figure out what is “classist” about cheap public transportation options.

    You are putting words into my mouth as I never said nobody ever has a need for a car. I just think that for most (not all) people that “need” is often grossly exaggerated and once real-world solutions are explored it becomes more obvious that it is actually a “want”. Suggesting that people who can drive less should explore doing so and even planning future developments to accomodate car-lite lifestyles is far from stating that nobody ever needs a car.

    I think 48 parking spaces in a 205-unit development sounds just about perfect for this particular area, and will likely meet the needs of all the people who live there and in fact do need a car, especially if several of those spots are occupied by car share.

  • destroy_all_monsters

    This is the part of of tor_berg’s post I responded to: “Don’t you think a vital first step in changing car-centric culture is ending subsidies to car owners?”

    I took subsidies in this case as parking spaces. I chose to address this point because I hear this (anti-car rhetoric) all the time and it doesn’t take into account the lives many people, the type that often don’t or can’t participate in the public debate or city meetings, live. It’s not a voice I’m hearing from anyone else here either. I deliberately didn’t address the second part of tor_berg’s statements because I agree with them.

    I stated that the argument was classist because it is. I’ve called no one here classist. Denying that those that often are lower or lower middle class don’t often have to travel by car is denying their reality. Which reminds me that I haven’t seen the percentage afforded to affordable housing.

    We disagree on the parking. Much (all?) of it will end up going to the businesses. If it’s advertised and made sufficiently clear to all prospective lessees that there will be no parking and it is adequate for the businesses then it may work. I think there is a much better chance of it working with the triple lifts mentioned (and as I mentioned to Sharkey I do not know what downsides there are to the lifts).

  • Prinzrob

    I didn’t read tor_berg’s post as being inherently “anti-car”, but just advocating for sane and reasonable parking policies. Someone can argue for limiting car use where it doesn’t make sense without being anti-car, as demonstrated by the rest of his post: “If people are going to insist on owning cars where they are unnecessary, why shouldn’t they assume responsibility for that choice?”

    I think people who are struggling with the costs of car ownership and afraid of being priced out altogether often fail to realize that there are plenty of folks out there just like them who were already priced out a long time ago, but are still managing to live and thrive (myself included). I doubt there are many middle class families who wouldn’t mind an extra $7-8k in their pockets every year, which is what the reality of going car-free or car-lite entails. Figuring out how to deal with the rest of one’s life and what sacrifices one will end up making to enable that transition is all part of the equation, but I still fail to see how suggesting it is classist.

  • destroy_all_monsters

    The point is to argue the rhetoric and make a point that cars aren’t exclusively a luxury item which is what I did. The problem with the part that you’ve quoted from tor_berg is who decides where they are necessary.

    Like I said, it’s great if you can actually dump your car. And I get from your comments in other threads that you seem to be a bicycle advocate. But it isn’t the reality for everyone and it’s important not to just sideline someone that lives a life you don’t. Not everyone can just dump their job for one that more transportation friendly especially in this economy.

  • guest

    Da unions + pandering.

  • Prinzrob

    I didn’t realize I was sidelining anyone by just suggesting that they try bikes or transit for transportation when they have the opportunity. I am indeed passionate about all forms of sustainable transportation, especially biking, but I’m far from a zealot and wouldn’t expect anyone to reinvent their life just to satisfy me. However, as someone who was raised deep in car country I know it is very easy to get sucked into the status quo and overlook viable alternatives just because they are less common and outside one’s routine. I have spoken with LOTS of people who felt trapped by the expenses associated with car ownership but had put such an investment into it via time, money, and effort that they falsely felt it was a necessity. However, by gradually redefining their expectations and habits they found that they could maintain or even improve their quality of life without it. This of course is not a possibility for everyone, but it is for the majority of city dwellers, especially those who decide to live in a development just a couple blocks from BART and AC Transit hubs.

  • The_Sharkey

    Yet you are expressing your concern by talking about how the apartment building wouldn’t work for you or someone like you.

  • guest


  • Charles_Siegel

    Ah, yes, “moving away from the four-story limit downtown”! Now you are really showing how little you know.

  • Charles_Siegel

    “Let’s say for the sake of argument….”

    Let’s try sticking to the facts rather than inventing fantasies for the sake of argument.

    Target is not going to build in downtown. If they did, then their project would have to take care of its parking demand.

  • destroy_all_monsters

    Even if it is only Berkeley Hardware that is in the building a net loss of parking will still hurt the business and regardless of what businesses are there those businesses will need parking (for them and their employees). We have the opposite situation with the planned replacement of the Hink’s building with what looks like far more parking stalls than is needed.

    It wasn’t my scenario – I was just expounding upon it. Some commercial properties are going to need to be on the ground floor regardless. You could stripe the curbs all green in order to help with the flow but that would also hurt the businesses there.

  • guest

    You seem to have a Lord-ian style of thought.

  • guest

    The COB has a great recruitment plan…

    Imagine being able to set your own salary and benefits, schedule your own hours, be surly to your customers, retire in style…all with complete job security!

    And all you have to do is…Pound the pavement for a few days every couple of years, put up campaign signs and hook on door hangers!

    Enjoy it while you can. The goose you’re cooking lays the golden eggs.

  • Biker 94703

    Per Mark Rhoades above, there is no agreement that Ace will return.

  • The_Sharkey

    Hardly the same thing, Chicken Little.


  • Caltastrophe

    Help revive the plan to build University housing at that big vacant lot at Dwight and Bowditch!

  • baklazhan

    I think it says a lot when a developer would rather pay $28,000 and have no parking to show for it, than to actually build parking. Either it’s extremely expensive to build, or there’s just no demand for it.