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.
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 (03.04.13)
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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