City’s largest apartment building ever gets go-ahead

A rendering of the Acheson Commons complex on University Avenue, which now will go forward.

A rendering of the Acheson Commons complex on University Avenue, which now will go forward. Image: Kirk Peterson Architects

Acheson Commons, the largest apartment complex ever planned for Berkeley’s downtown, is set to go forward after its opponents decided not to file a challenge to the plan.

A coalition of unions, preservationists, community activists and Rent Board members did not file an appeal to a recent ZAB ruling by the deadline, Monday, July 8, at 5 p.m. That means the 205-unit project slated for 2133 University Ave. could be completed in the next three years.

“I think this project is a cornerstone to the revitalization of the downtown, at least the northern end of it,” said Mark Rhoades, a former city planner whose Rhoades Planning Group is representing the developer, Chicago-based Equity Residential.

The Zoning Adjustments Board first approved Acheson Commons in December 2012, but that approval was appealed before the Berkeley City Council in March. The City Council remanded the project back to ZAB, which held a public hearing on 10 issues in June, then approved Acheson Commons once more. The project does not have to return to the council for any more approvals, said Terry Blount, a principal planner for Berkeley and the staff liaison to the zoning board.

“There was no appeal,” said Blount. “The decision is final.”

The appellants were concerned about the height of the buildings, contending some were higher than the 75-foot limit; the amount of parking for the project; and the possibility that Berkeley would lose eight affordable housing units, among other issues.

Equity Residential fought back on some of those items but made other adjustments in response to the points raised, according to Rhoades. Equity took another look at the parking configuration. Originally, the developer had proposed to include only 48 spaces in the building, with 46 of them dedicated to customers of Ace Hardware and other retailers. There would be two handicapped spaces and two spaces reserved for car shares. None of the parking spaces would have been available to residents. Instead, Equity planned to provide bicycle parking and transit passes.

After the project was remanded to ZAB, Equity agreed to create 83 parking spaces, said Rhoades. Twenty-two of those will be at grade and will be reserved for retail customers, 58 of the spaces will be below grade and available to residents, and three will be car share spaces, he said.

The Rent Board had been particularly concerned about eight units situated on Walnut Street that Equity needs to move to build Acheson Commons. The Rent Board wanted those units, which had long been vacant, to continue to be covered by rent control when they were re-rented.

Originally, Equity had contended that the units, located in a cluster of brown-shingled homes, had been vacant for so long they were no longer covered by rent control. The developer had said it would try to find a new location for the homes, but planned to demolish them if no new place could be found.

In the end, Equity softened its position. Rhoades said the developer is close to working out a deal to move the houses to a lot in West Berkeley. The new owner has agreed to make the units comply with affordable housing guidelines in perpetuity, said Rhoades.

If that deal falls through, Equity has agreed to reserve eight units in Acheson Commons at the same reduced rent, said Rhoades.

Ellen Trescott, attorney for the appellants, said her clients had gotten a number of compromises out of Equity Residential, which led to the decision not to appeal the most recent ZAB ruling. She pointed to the increase in parking and agreement on the vacant units as particularly gratifying. Equity also redesigned one of its buildings to comply with the 75-foot height limit, she said.

“We did get some significant changes made to the project,” said Trescott, who for works for Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo in Sacramento. “It reinforces the concept that if an out-of-town developer is going to develop such a large project, they need to comply with codes and provide as much community benefits as possible.”

The Building and Construction Trades Council of Alameda County had been pushing Equity to promise to hire union workers. In the end, Equity did not do that, but in all likelihood union tradesmen will be hired for certain parts of the job, said Rhoades. Mayor Tom Bates said at the March council meeting that 60% of the jobs at Acheson will be union jobs.

Equity Residential first proposed the Acheson Commons project at 2133 University in 2010, and donated $25,000 to the Yes on Measure R campaign, an advisory measure that laid out plans for a more densely developed downtown. It passed with 64% of the vote in November of that year.

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. Historic buildings and façades along University would be retained and rehabilitated. Two brown-shingled homes on Walnut would be relocated and replaced by ground-floor parking with residential units above.

The project will increase the city’s annual tax revenue by $600,000, said Rhoades.

Equity Residential is one of the major landlords in Berkeley. It currently owns 429 units in Berkeley and that number will increase to 634 units once Acheson Commons is completed.

Equity, which is run by Sam Zell, owns the Gaia Building at 2116 Allston Way; the Fine Arts Building at 2110 Haste St.; the Acton Courtyard at 1370 University Ave.; the Bachenheimer Building at 2119 University Ave.; ARTech at 2002 Addison Ave.; the Touriel at 2004 University Ave.; the Berkeleyan at 1910 Oxford St.; and Renaissance Villas at 1627 University Ave.

View Equity Residential in Berkeley in a larger map

Now that the appellants have decided not to file an appeal, work can begin on the construction drawings, said Rhoades. Those should take about six or seven months to complete. Then Equity will either apply for a foundation permit, or it may wait and apply for a permit for the entire complex, he said. The project could be completed, if everything goes smoothly, three years from now, in August 2016, he said.

One remaining question mark is what will happen to Ace Hardware during construction. Bill and Virginia Carpenter, the owners of Berkeley Ace Hardware, have been looking for a temporary space but have not found one yet.

Acheson Commons sent back to Berkeley Rent Board (03.07.13)
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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  • Biker 94703

    If only we had more students downtown, it might finally become like southside.

  • Charles_Siegel

    If a new building does not have on-site parking for residents, then those residents cannot get parking permits under Berkeley’s current law. If the building does have parking for residents, then they can get permits.

  • US citizen!

    Bike racks instead of parking spaces, huge stacked housing units located right along transit lines… This smacks of U.N. Agenda 21 (local chapter!). In case you’ve never heard of Agenda 21 (Agenda For The 21st Century), it also goes by “Sustainable Development” and/or “I.C.L.E.I. (International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives).

    While these may seem harmless and even good, there are very troubling aspects to them that the public in general will not learn about until it’s too late. In order for Agenda 21 to succeed, land can not be owned by citizens. Property rights will not exist for individuals, only government. The public must be disarmed as well. Housing like the type in this article will be where everyone lives, no privately owned homes, no deciding where you will live. Cars will exist only for government agencies and actors, bikes will be the main mode of personal transportation for all individuals. All places of employment will be located near the transit lines, the rest of the land (all of it) will be off limits in order to preserve it for future generations. The Constitution/Bill of Rights will no longer be valid.

    Think i’m joking, or some conspiracy nutjob? I can’t say that i blame you! I can only urge you from the bottom of my heart to investigate United Nation’s Agenda 21 for yourself. You’ll have to see it with your own eyes to believe it. A good overview is presented by a Mr. John Anthony on 11/28/2011 titled “Agenda 21 EXPLAINED, full version”. It can be found on youtube at this link-
    We’ll only have ourselves to blame if we allow this to continue! Please be a good citizen and watch that video!

  • Charles_Siegel

    The developer who owned this property wanted to build this large building at this site and to include only a small amount of parking.

    Are you against property rights? Are you saying that the property owner should not be allowed to do what he wants with his property? Instead, government should force him to build lower density with more parking?

    Are you a socialist trying to undermine the owner’s property rights? A communist?

  • guest

    You mean ‘Berkeleyside’, don’t you?

  • guest

    Gouging is in the eye of cardholder. Rave on nutsy old crone.

  • guest

    That’s because it’s adults who buy and build them…the kids are on PlayStation.

  • David D.

    Probably the amount of square footage. The Andronico’s space is rather large.

    P.S. Yes, it will be Savers. They’re finally doing some work inside, so they should be in later this year.

  • David D.

    Conspiracy theories notwithstanding, ACE does not need 46 parking spaces. It currently has 0 (or maybe 2 or 3–is that lot off the side street theirs?). Honestly, this development will construct rentals at a price point that will attract some people who will want to have a car–and are willing to pay for the parking space for it. However, most people who go to downtown Berkeley to dine and shop know better than to drive there, so creating 20 new general parking spaces instead of 40 won’t register on the neighborhood scale. The new parking arrangement is a smart business decision on the developer’s part.

  • Bill N

    I really like the look of the Bachenheimer building though I wouldn’t want to live there when this underway!

  • Bill N

    The off street lot (maybe 20-25 spaces – I’ve never counted) belongs to Ace and is heavily used along with the metered street spaces to the east.

  • Charles_Siegel

    This is not a conspiracy theory. It is a stupidity theory.

    I suspect that the people who appealed just didn’t consider or understand the difference between retail and tenant parking. They wanted more parking, and they couldn’t see any further than that.

    Yes, that lot on the side street does belong to Ace, and Ace has said that having parking is the key to their decision about where to locate. This has nothing to do with people who dine downtown. As I said initially:

    there is a real need for parking for a hardware store, which has
    many customers who come by car and haul relatively heavy loads (though
    most of its customers do not come by car). This makes it less likely
    that Ace Hardware will survive the remodel; a realtor who was working
    with them has said that availability of parking was their key demand in
    looking for a new location.

  • EBGuy

    I’m not sure building subterranean parking is ever a smart business decision (the additional residential spots will be below grade underneath the Walnut Building). In the previous design, all the spots were at grade only (no digging) Also, note that the 48 spaces for Ace in the original design where accomplished using two level lifts. I know some parking lots use these lifts, but I think that would be a nightmare for a retail lot in a commercial building (without the lifts, there were 28 spots).

  • foo

    If you don’t like public transit and bike racks, there’s many places you can live very happily. Please live there and leave us alone to try something a little different.

  • US citizen!

    Oh my! My comments certainly struck a nerve with you! Wowzers!! Why attack me, Charles? Did my last post sound like it came from a person who hates America and/or WANTS to see our Constitutional Rights, Personal Liberties & Freedoms taken away from us, THE PEOPLE? Please point out the parts in my last post that brought you to your insulting conclusions about my intent and my character in general… and a FAILED attemp of ‘prime-time’ political spin. I’m all ears, as i’m sure others are as well. Educate us, Charles.
    To everyone else… If you feel like there’s something not quite right about all of this but you just can’t put your finger on what it could be… If you just can’t shake that inkling of a sense that you aren’t being provided with the whole truth about any aspects of this project, or any others like it… Your instincts are intact and working perfectly, as intended. But as we all know, taking the word of a complete stranger, especially on matters of this magnitude, is simply unwise. So PLEASE, don’t take my word, watch the video i posted in my last post/comments. Check the facts. Here’s the link again in case you missed it…

    The guy giving the talk provides you with every source of the information, where to find it, how to get it (it’s mostly documents that can be viewed and/or downloaded by anyone, for free, directly from the United Nations website and a few other government agency websites, or even purchased and delivered to you as physical paperbacks/reports) and how it all ties together along a linear timeline. This video is not of someone just offernig opinions on the matter. He intentionally stays well clear opinion. These are facts that can be checked by all of us! The presentation is about an hour and a half long. I suggest making time for seeing it in one session rather than breaking it up. Again…

    If at any time you’ve seen the phrase “Sustainable Development” on any documents related to this project, or “I.C.L.E.I.” or “Local 21” or “L.A. 21″… or any of these (to name just a few)…

    Smart growth
    Smart streets
    Visioning projects
    Public Private Partnerships
    Sustainable communities
    Open spaces
    Walkable communities
    Environmental justice
    Buffer zones
    Multi-use dwellings
    Hghi density urban development units
    …then there is definitely a very real possibility of danger. Not direct physical danger, i hope, but an even greater one that threatens our very way of life and the lives of our children and their children! The US Constitution and Bill of Rights are in direct opposition to the goals of UN Agenda 21! Agenda 21 will not work in a free society such as ours. It’s being implemented on a global scale, as you’ll see in the video- , but the US is holding it back because the people here are protected by rights, personal liberties and freedoms that most countries don’t have, such as using lethal force to defend ourselves and our land/property without any fear of being punished by the law in any way whatsoever. Firearms owned by private citizens, and our other inalienable Rights, are also a HUGE problem for Agenda 21. I suggest we keep it that way! Stop Agenda 21 at all costs!
    Watch the video and educate those around you. Knowledge is power, use it! Save our country!

  • guest

    Ace currently has 24 parking spaces in the lot behind their building (entrance on Walnut, exit on Berkeley Way). They also utilize the space on an ad-hoc basis for recycling projects.

  • SF2OAK

    I think it’s fabulous. i do find it curious that the appellant wanted more parking, in Berkeley, moo. It looks a thoughtful project, upgraded. hope I know someone who lives there so I can enjoy the roof deck! Now if only something can be done about the street people.

  • Charles_Siegel

    “Did my last post sound like it came from a person who hates America”

    No, it sounds like it came from a person who is either clinically paranoid or very ignorant.

    Looks like I hit a nerve, judging from your frothing-at-the-mouth response.

  • pantherblue

    Yes. Exactly my question! Why did the “coalition of activists” (in Berkeley of all places!) push for MORE parking in a city center location. I actually find this to be a bit…sinister.