Developer submits 8-story project for University, Milvia

Stonefire, proposed development. Image: Johnson Lyman Architects

The eight-story “Stonefire” building has been proposed at Milvia and University. For context, nearby Berkeley Central on Center Street rises nine stories. Image: Johnson Lyman Architects

A new eight-story building could take the place of the Firestone garage and parking lot at Milvia and University, if a newly proposed development at 1974 University Ave. is approved by the city of Berkeley.

The project is still in its nascent stages as far as the city permit approval process; developer William Schrader Jr., of Alamo-based The Austin Group, submitted the application Friday, with the possibility of a design review session coming in August.

Schrader’s son, AJ, a broker with San Francisco-based boutique real estate firm Retail West, who procured the sale of the land, said last week that the deal took about 14 months to negotiate. The sale won’t be final until the city entitlement process is complete, or nearly complete, he added.

William Schrader said the new development would help continue extending “the retail experience” from Shattuck Avenue downtown westbound on University Avenue. The new building is planned at this time to include an atrium that’s open to the sky. The first story would be retail, which is set to include a full-service restaurant, perhaps 3,500 square feet, and some other commercial spaces on University.

The Firestone lot. Image: Google Maps

The Firestone lot. Image: Google

William Schrader said the design team hopes to include special features as far as the streetscape and other outdoor amenities, such as brick pavers on the sidewalk and seating outside.

“We’re really going to try to provide some energy on the street,” he said.

He said he plans to include 11 below-market-rate rental units in the property, out of 115-120 total rental units. Including those units allows him, under state “density bonus” law, to build 35% more units than the project would otherwise allow. The units will include a mix of studios, and one- and two-bedroom units. Underground parking is included in the project plans.

Schrader says the project will have the feeling of “European village storefronts” — similar to Telegraph Gardens at Ashby and Telegraph — that are deep set and substantial. The roofline steps back, so those standing or eating nearby will feel more openness overhead.

For residents, a rooftop deck and garden will be available, along with a possible community lounge and health club.

Stonefire, view from University

The Stonefire building would be Schrader’s second project in Berkeley. He recently won final approval from the Berkeley City Council for his Durant and Channing apartment building. Walnut Creek-based Johnson Lyman Architects is handling the designs.

Schrader said he believes Stonefire would, along with Trader Joe’s and Acheson Commons, serve as “anchor projects” that would pull traffic down University and help all the businesses on the street, and contribute to the revitalization of the area.

“For many, that area is probably considered to be kind of forgotten. It’s not on Shattuck. It’s not on BART. There’s a closed movie theater,” he said. “These kinds of projects will help everyone on that street by pulling more activity from ‘Main and Main’ all the way down to MLK for that whole stretch.”

He said he sees his role as a developer as trying “to figure out the highest and best use for a piece of property,” and described himself as “very hands-on” with his technical and engineering teams. He likes to weigh in on everything from paint colors and floor designs to the exterior designs.

“It’s personal to me, and I’m really proud of every project I’ve ever built. I think the city’s going to be really proud of The Durant, and will be proud if we get this one too,” he said. “It’s a really beautiful design for this corner.”

Stonefire, view from Milvia. Image: Johnson Lyman Architects

Over his 30 years in the development business, most of which have been in California, Schrader has designed everything from industrial office space to retail projects and single family homes. Some of his guiding philosophies, he said, include being sensitive to scale and building beyond “the minimums” of what’s required by city code as far as things like amenities or setbacks. He said, though he works on numerous projects at a time, this would be the largest on his plate, and the one he’d likely spend the most time on.

“Developers get such a ‘black cap’ reputation,” he said. “I tend to keep the properties that I build. Everybody has a legacy of some kind: I just like to build things. And I’m really proud of the things I’ve built.”

Schrader said the project could come before the Zoning Adjustments Board in the fall and, if all goes smoothly, he could break ground in 2015 and open Stonefire’s doors in 2016.

Mixed-use 6-story building approved on Addison Street (07.25.13)
City’s largest apartment building ever gets go-ahead (07.11.13)
‘The Durant’ apartments win approval from City Council (06.27.13)
Developers put theaters back into high-rise plans (06.26.13)
Early high-rise plans lack inspiration, say commissioners (03.19.13)
Berkeley zoning board approves 78-unit Durant (03.15.13)
New building proposed for Sequoia site on Telegraph Ave. (02.27.13)
1,000 new apartments planned for downtown Berkeley (02.07.13)
First high-rise in 40 years planned for downtown Berkeley (12.21.12)

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  • Charles_Siegel

    There are lots of improvements for this stretch of Milvia that are listed in the city’s bike plan, but none on the ground. This would be a reasonable mitigation from the developer.

  • Charles_Siegel

    There was a huge battle over that building, led by NIMBYs whose main goal was more parking. The longer the battle between developers and NIMBYs, the worse the result.

    The worst outcome was that the developer wanted to put a new building for the YMCA on the north side of the lot – probably not a good location because it is not very central. The neighborhood derailed this plan by insisting on housing on the north half of the lot. But the developers never built the housing, and they left the north half of a vacant lot.

    The ZAB did not permit the north half of the lot to be parking, and for many years, it had a sign saying something like: “Temporary parking for deliveries only.” Then the sign mysteriously disappeared and it turned into a parking lot – which I assume is probably an illegal use. I bet that will end up being the last underused surface parking lot left near downtown Berkeley.

    Gus Newport was mayor when it was going through council, and he always would end up his summaries of what was being allowed by saying “Housing on the backside.”

    At the time, I lived on Berkeley Way. I used to tell people that I always thought I lived at the front of a Berkeley Way lot. It took Gus Newport to let me know that I really lived on the University Ave. “backside.”

  • Guest

    This is why I love Berkeley and am so proud to live here. This comment by Charles could be the basis of an amazing article in almost any newspaper in the world. And here it is in the comment section of Berkleyside. IN THE COMMENT SECTION!

  • Mrdrew3782

    This is actually quite interesting as I had never thought of the concept of a “fabric building”. If you look at San Francisco it is quite obvious what the fabric building style is. Different colors, heights, and shapes but most buildings are based on the same architectural foundation. The issue with Berkeley though is that up until recently there wasn’t any fabric building. All of the cities architecture was varied enough that there was no dominate architectural style. That lack of a “fabric building” in essence became our “fabric building” as the city was celebrated for its diversity of architectural styles. So now that we are in the middle of a building frenzy a question arises. That question is; are we are going to be happy with these new apartment buildings becoming our new defining architectural style or “fabric building”.

  • EarlyMorningCoffee

    Occupy Firestone!

  • EarlyMorningCoffee


  • John Smith

    Why do Berkeley developers and Architects keep designing the same bland cookie-cutter buildings. What happened to innovation and inspiring Architecture. One wonders if the Planning Commission is so conservative that they will not approve more interesting and thoughtful Architecture. We are going to have to live with all of these new developments for a long time. A missed opportunity to add visual vitality to a very tired downtown Berkeley.

  • Guest

    Let’s see you do better, Champ.

  • EBGuy

    Every downtown should have a tire store. Where the heck am I supposed to buy my wheels and have my tires rotated?

  • TN

    There’s still the Goodyear on MLK and Joe’s Tires on University.

  • Mbfarrel

    The European cities “we” love so much consist, mostly, of older buildings limited to about 5 stories. The pattern was established before elevators.
    I think 8 stories is too tall for this location.

    To make an unflattering comparison, University Hall is only 7 stories. The proposed building will be the tallest structure on University. Within 10 to 20 years all the low rise that supports the renaissance of upper University will be gone and Downtown will extend well North of Hearst. Probably the hot spot will move to Lorin Station as gentrification continues.
    I’m just me and I don’t like it.

  • David D.

    Google owned SketchUp until recently, so the architect probably has rights to Google Street View images as a result of using that program. (I don’t know if they use SketchUp, but it’s a fairly common program.)

  • WFS

    John…do you have a favorite building in Berkeley? Or architectural style?

  • Annie Painter

    Hmmm…if all these buildings look “alike”, could it not be because the investors/builders are all building to the absolute maximum permitted height? I see no difference then between us and Amsterdam, Oxford, or Paris where many neighborhoods were height-restricted when originally constructed — and 200 years down the road they don’t look so bad. Take the long view.

    Concerning the planned retail spaces, are similar street-level frontages not still vacant on the TJ’s lot? What will make the new retail spaces more rentable, just a block away? This sounds like just another approval hoop through which planners navigate in order to get large apartment blocks built. Although — I agree that the ‘hood has improved since TJ’s arrived. Let’s think of another appropriate, responsible chain business, or restaurant, to install at street level in the new building.

    As a cyclist, I already find the intersection of Milvia and Uni treacherous because that “yield to oncoming traffic” flummoxes many a north-bound driver. How to mitigate further traffic snarls with the new building?

    And, finally, I am a long-time customer of the tire store and hope they are able to find another downtown location.

  • Curious in Berkeley

    Two more points about the Golden Bear building:

    1. It got its name from the Golden Bear car dealership that had previously occupied the site. (Similarly, the building under discussion will retain an echo of its past, by flipping the name Firestone.)

    2. The original plan called for an 8-10 story building! (I’ve forgotten how many, but at least 8). At the time I lived on Hearst between Grant and Grove (as it was then known), and neighbors were very concerned about the shadow it would cast on our yards. Community activism managed to shrink the building… and guess what: five years after it was built, there were still “For Rent” signs out front. What if the developer had been permitted his original excessive height?

    Finally, off topic, but the Firestone lot provides much needed parking at night for patrons of (1) Au Coquelet, the Berkeley Rep and Aurora theaters, and Freight & Salvage. It will be sorely missed by many.

  • Curious in Berkeley

    Ha! At the time of the Golden Bear controversy I lived on the south side of Hearst (see my comment above), and it’s taken me all these years to learn that I was on the “back backside”.

    P.S. Remember when Fred’s Market came in and occupied the former office space of Golden Bear Motors? It thus became the first… and last… grocery story in our neighborhood, until Trader Joe’s. Good times!