A proposal for a new University Avenue mixed-use development, set to include 58 units, sailed through Berkeley zoning board review Thursday night, winning acclaim from commissioners for what they said was its beautiful design and sensitivity to the surrounding neighborhood.
The 45- to 55-foot-tall building will feature 1,175 square feet of office or retail space, and 60 parking spaces. Two structures currently on site — which have housed a construction company, a veterinary clinic (circa 1973) and, later, medical research labs — will be demolished to make way for the project, which is named “The Aquatic” and was designed by Berkeley-based Trachtenberg Architects. (See the project staff report here.)
The building project site, at 800 University Ave. on the south side of the street, straddles two different zoning designations; as a result, the north side of the property will reach five stories, and the southern portion will rise to just four. Parking will be provided in both a ground-floor garage and an open lot behind the building. Four units in the development will be available to very-low income residents, and the project will put $240,000 into the city’s Housing Trust Fund.
Open space will include a 1,600-square-foot landscaped area to the east of the parking lot, and 1,500 square feet of private open space, including a rooftop garden, above the fourth floor. A leasing office for the housing units and gym space for tenants are planned for the ground floor. Developers plan to build a bocce ball court at grade for tenants as well.
Unit types in the 54,302-square-foot building are set to include four studios, 46 one-bedrooms and eight two-bedrooms, with average sizes of 551, 740 and 1,086 square feet respectively. (See the project plans here.)
Officials reported no opposition to the project, which was approved by the city’s Design Review Committee and the Zoning Adjustments Board on a single pass.
Charles Kahn, a local architect who was sitting in for Commissioner Robert Allen, described the project designs as “beautiful,” “very well considered” and “thoughtfully done” with respect to neighbors and massing.
Zoning board Chairman Michael Alvarez Cohen said he appreciated that the project was “fully parked” — in that it includes parking for each resident — and has ample space between the apartment building and its nearest residential neighbors. (The closest one is 60 feet away.)
Commissioner Steven Donaldson said he liked the unit mix, as well as the design of the apartments, which all include 9-foot ceilings and south-facing windows.
Architect David Trachtenberg thanked the commissioners for their feedback.
“We spent a lot of time and a lot of care in how the units are laid out,” he said. “I think that these are going to be wonderful units.”
Trachtenberg’s firm has designed and received recognition for many Berkeley projects, including the original Berkeley Bowl, Comal restaurant, The Read Building, Premier Cru and the La Farine building on Solano Avenue.
Commissioner Sophie Hahn commended Trachtenberg and the property owner, R&S Fifth St., for what she described as the project’s generous approach to the community. She thanked them “for bringing a really nice, reasonable project forward,” adding that it is ”unlike a lot of projects we’ve been seeing in that it’s not trying to maximize everything for the developer.”
The project’s investment group, R&S Fifth St., is composed of Morgan Read — whose family owns Grocery Outlet — and Kasey Stevens.
The commission voted unanimously for approval after a very brief discussion.
After the vote, Trachtenberg said the real take-away was that Berkeley officials appreciate projects that are relatively modest, sensitive to the neighborhood and don’t try to build up “every square foot.”
“The credit really goes to the developers, who were wise enough to understand that you can build less and build a little better, and still have a successful project,” he said.
Construction is expected to begin in February 2014, with a possible opening by summer 2015.
[Editor's Note: This story was updated to reflect the correct scheduled completion date, in September 2015. Commissioner Sophie Hahn's comments were also clarified post publication.]
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