‘The Durant’ apartments win approval from City Council

The Durant, as it would be viewed from Durant Avenue. (Click the image to see how it would look from Channing Way.) Image: The Austin Group

The Durant, as it would be viewed from Durant Avenue. (Click the image to see how it would look from Channing Way.) Image: Johnson Lyman Architects

Tuesday night, the Berkeley City Council upheld a March decision by the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board to allow developers to move ahead with plans to build a 78-unit rental apartment complex in downtown Berkeley.

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 six. The architects are Johnson Lyman Architects of Walnut Creek.

The zoning board decision was appealed in April by Stephen Stine, who cited “severe detriments” related to noise, air quality and sunlight reductions that would affect residents, including his mother, who live in a senior housing complex — Stuart Pratt Manor at 2020 Durant — next door to the project site. Appellants also said the city hadn’t followed proper notification rules when zoning in the neighborhood was changed during the Downtown Area Plan process.

About 16 members of the community expressed concerns about the project during the public comment period. Some said new residents would bring parking problems and congestion, and many said they were worried about the lack of light. Five people, including the CEOs of the Downtown Berkeley Assocation and the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce, spoke in favor of it.

Developer William Schrader Jr. said he believes 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 at least 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 about $1.5 million into the city’s Housing Trust Fund.

A former church — now used as office space — 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.

The Durant, as viewed from the south,

The Durant, as viewed from the south, is set to straddle a mid-block property — between Shattuck and Milvia — from Channing Way north to Durant. Image: Johnson Lyman Architects

Council members said they sympathized with the seniors as far as the loss of direct sunlight for part of the day, but added that this is typical in Berkeley, where many homes shadow each other or are shadowed by large trees. Single-family homes must have at least 8 feet of space between them; The Durant would be an average of 20 feet from its neighbor.

Councilman Jesse Arreguín said he could not support the project because of the loss of sunlight to 35% of the senior housing units, and that the city needs to re-think its approach to parking with an eye toward requiring more of it. He said he made a mistake in supporting a zoning change for the project site several years prior, and that the city must do a better job notifying neighbors about zoning changes.

Earlier in the meeting, city planning director Eric Angstadt told the council that city staff do not believe there was any error as far as proposed zoning change notifications. In his staff report, he wrote that the council decision to change the zoning in the neighborhood “was properly noticed and was the culmination of numerous years of the [Downtown Area Plan] planning process.” He added: “The time for challenging the validity of any part of those actions has long passed.”

Angstadt did say, however, that some senior housing residents did not receive a hard copy notice to alert them of the zoning changes on their own property due to a computer programming error that has since been fixed; the notices for the entire neighborhood were, however, properly given through the newspaper.

Councilwoman Linda Maio called the distance between the properties “quite extraordinary,” and said “you just don’t get that” degree of separation between structures in Berkeley. She said she understood that having the project next door would be an adjustment for seniors, but that to expect things to “not change at all” would be unrealistic.

Councilman Max Anderson, with support from Councilman Kriss Worthington, tried to get council support to hold a public hearing about the project at a later date, but Councilman Gordon Wozniak instead moved to have council uphold the zoning board’s decision, in line with the staff recommendation on the matter.

“We have a project that meets all the current zoning, goals and requirements, and will contribute to the Housing Trust Fund,” he said, noting that there have already been six public meetings on the project. “I don’t see where we have any reason to turn this down.”

Councilwoman Susan Wengraf concurred. “We’ve passed the Downtown Plan and this is the kind of project that I thought we wanted,” she told her fellow council members. “It’s very unfortunate that the sunlight on those [senior] units is going to be impacted, but I can’t see that having a public hearing is going to lead to anything different. That’s just the situation.”

The council voted 6-3 — with Worthington, Arreguín and Anderson in the minority — to uphold the zoning board’s decision.

Questions about proper notification

After the vote, during a short recess, appellant Stine said he continued to be troubled by what he views as a failure to properly notify residents about neighborhood zoning changes.

Stine said he thought the council was “amazingly abdicating its duties in the face of all these procedural errors.” He and his wife, Kathryn, said, at this point, only a grand jury process could potentially halt the development, but that it would cost at least $10,000 to prepare the required administrative record for that endeavor.

Added Kathryn Stine: “There’s a severe lack of empathy on the part of the City Council members who voted to push this through. There’s a lack of empathy and a lack of understanding.”

Berkeley zoning board approves 78-unit Durant (03.15.13)
Decision on project at Durant, Channing delayed
1,000 new apartments planned for downtown Berkeley (02.07.13)
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)
Project documents on the city of Berkeley website for The Durant
Current Durant plans (March 2013)

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  • foo@bar.com

    I like the looks of it! Especially the lack of excessive parking. People who live here, take BART/bike/walk rather than drive will save money by not paying for parking that they don’t need.

  • David D.

    Is the west elevation drawing out of date? The text of the article states that the northern portion of the building will be 6 stories tall, not 8.

    Why does a 78-unit building designed to cater to students only have 40 bicycle parking spaces? There should be at least 78! Otherwise, I’m looking forward to it.

  • David

    The more market rate housing downtown the more fun and nicer Berkeley shall be. Pity the special tax can’t go to public interest, like parks or art.

  • WFS

    David…there is room in the garage to accommodate as many bicycles as is necessary to satisfy the demand by the residents.

  • WFS

    Also, you are correct this drawing is out of date. The building is six stories on the Durant Avenue side of the project, not eight.

    Emilie…can you fix the imbedded drawing?

  • wellslake

    but there is excessive parking: “The project includes 34 parking spaces, which Schrader said is 30% more than the city code requires.” And there is a shortage of bike parking.

  • The_Sharkey

    Good news!
    We need more high-density housing in the areas near BART stations and major transit lines.

    No surprise that The Party of WAA (Worthington, Arreguin and Anderson) are on the wrong side of progress yet again.

  • The_Sharkey


    Councilman Jesse Arreguín said he could not support the project because… the city needs to re-think its approach to parking with an eye toward requiring more of it.

    Very surprised to see Arreguin throwing his weight behind auto-oriented development.

  • EBGuy

    I’m hoping this was all a bit of political theater to get the seniors’ votes next election cycle. I know neighbors were screaming about parking in some to the previous stories/threads.

  • Woolsey

    We need more jobs, we need more housing – a never ending cycle Why do we need perpetual growth with taller and taller buildings? Eventually, we’ll look like Manhattan.The streets in NY are oppressive – why are heading that direction?

  • Woolsey

    We need to rethink our approach toward providing any parking.

  • emraguso

    Yes — just got the updated plans so I will fix that now. In the meantime I have fixed the caption. Apologies for my confusion.

  • EBGuy

    Emilie, please leave up the 8 story picture with the caption. This is a gambit run (now more often) by developers to propose something outrageous (8 stories!) and then scale it back to “show how reasonable they are”.
    I’m happy to see this get built, but the fourth estate needs to keep everyone honest but documenting “the process”.

  • Andrew Doran

    Why do we need taller and taller buildings? Because the alternative is more sprawl. Our city can not pretend to be an island. The population of our state is growing (or at least our corner of it) we either do our part to help absorb that growth in a planned way, or we are contributors to all the Mcmansions and endless development in the vallejo’s and vacaville’s and traceys. I for one am not interested in the position that we as a community don’t want any more people to live here. That’s just about the opposite of the “all are welcome” ideal of my beloved hometown.

  • emraguso

    We noted in past stories that there was a proposal to build to eight floors, so that element of the story is still documented and can be found along with PDFs, particularly in our first story, I believe. I switched out the photo for this story because I don’t think it’s accurate to have an outdated photo representing the current project.

  • Charles_Siegel

    Let me take a moderate position and say we do need smart growth, but we don’t need taller and taller buildings.

    at the scale of traditional European cities can end sprawl and can
    offer better urban design and a better quality of life than high-rises.

    This building is at that traditional scale. Keep it up, and parts of Berkeley will look like a European city, not like Manhattan.

  • The_Sharkey

    Are there no other 8-story buildings in the downtown Berkeley core?
    Is there any reason to believe they wouldn’t have built an 8-story building if allowed?

    I dunno.

  • EBGuy

    Sharkey, my limited understanding is that building codes allow you to do a five story wooden structure on a (one story) concrete podium. Buildings over that height requires different (read: more costly) construction techniques. IANAD.

  • foo@bar.com

    Hm, I didn’t know that. It looks from the sketch that at least the parking is the dominant feature of the ground level. At any rate, it’s a big improvement over many older apartment buildings I walk by in Berkeley whose entire first floor is parking.

  • foo@bar.com

    err, is *not* the dominant feature.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    I think he’s throwing his weight behind grey-haired voters.

  • Woolsey

    I’m white-haired and I would like safe biking lanes and as few cars as possible.

  • Woolsey

    The skyscraper downtown matched with sprawling commuter suburbs is a horrible model of course. But, why can’t the businesses and industries (if any) locate in the current suburbs were people live so we aren’t locked into a long commute-based system. Both people and businesses should be directed to the underdeveloped sections of Contra Costa as opposed to requiring the currently built-out communities like Berkeley to keep growing indefinitely until our quality of life is destroyed..

  • WFS

    @ foo@bar The 34 parking spaces are in the underground garage. The first level is apartment units, lobby, and a lounge area.

  • guest

    I’m certain the Stines were surprised. Depriving old folks their final moments in the sun sure sounds like a council no vote.

    Five years ago, good son Stephen’s alleged raft of procedural errors would have occupied the public imagination for weeks. Lunchtime outreach meetings would have taken Anderson up yet another suit size. I see a parade of seniors with sun ravaged skin begging for more.

    But we’re growing up (six stories!). Kudos, Council!

  • Guest

    34 parking spaces, 40 bike spaces with room for 10 more inside doesn’t sound like enough for 78 units where up to 158 people will live if there are only one person per bedroom. These are small apartments with tiny balconies. If you want more people to give up cars, you need more space to park tenants bikes and shopping carts, etc. Where are visitors going to park the cars or bikes?

  • guest

    “Councilman Max Anderson, with support from Councilman Kriss Worthington…”

    Supporting Anderson is risky business. Max falls over and KW will be flatter than a pancake.

  • frenchjr25

    it looks like dozens of buildings being built around SF. Not sure if the Planning Department has any clue as to what constitutes quality architectural design. They seem to oppose anyone that wants to do anything new and daring but are 100% willing to approve plans that look like every other modern building being built in The City.

  • guest

    “it looks like dozens of buildings being built around SF.”

    Agreed. Market driven projects in the same market, at the same time, have too many realities in common to result in widely different buildings. Uniformity in design and construction costs, standards in finishes, the number and size of units, etc. all contribute to a sameness of the basic design.

    Where design aesthetics enters that picture is mainly in decorating these cakes. This project is nicely in line with the current popular groove. Asking for more would require altering the financial fundamentals of the transaction.

  • Charles_Siegel

    Look at any of the cities that are generally considered the most beautiful cities in the world – Paris, Florence, Amsterdam, and so on – and you will see that they all have a consistent urban fabric. The fabric buildings are not identical but they do have a general resemblance, and only the important public buildings have striking designs that make them stand out from the fabric.

    This is a clue to what constitutes good urban design.

    Look-at-me architecture, trying as hard as it can to be daring and different, is not necessarily good architecture and is usually bad urban design – though it is what our starchitects churn out and what they teach in architecture school.

  • Charles_Siegel

    Lots of people are forced to live outside of Berkeley and commute in. If you do not want a long-commute-based system, you should want more housing in Berkeley.

  • guest

    Most of us know that what makes a desireable apartment isn’t visible from the street; Privacy (acoustic and visual), an intelligent floor plan, a dependable physical plant (heating, hot water, ventilation), decent finishes, access to views and natural light, etc. etc.

    In that most important context, curb appeal is the easy part.

  • John Jackson

    Apparently tenants in the Trader Joe’s building have had their rent increased up to $300.00 a month, and many are scrambling to find ‘affordable’ places to live. Rent control doesn’t apply to anything built after 1980, I think. The commoditization of housing is sad.

  • EBGuy

    Looks like some units will be hitting the market before school starts. Craigslist is showing a 3/2 (1025 sq.ft) at The Varsity (previously known as The Durant), going for $4,900/month. Yikes. Wonder if they’ll get any takers. Features include a large (cantilevered) balcony.