‘Innovative’ housing with rooftop farms set for Southside

Garden Village, 2201 Dwight, Berkeley. Image: Stanley Saitowitz/Natoma Architects

A photo-simulation of Garden Village at 2201 Dwight Way in Berkeley. Image: Stanley Saitowitz/Natoma Architects

City zoning board members approved a 77-unit mixed-use housing development near downtown Berkeley late last week, expressing excitement about a “unique” design set to include more than a dozen working rooftop farm plots and a novel approach to parking.

“Garden Village,” at 2201 Dwight Way at Fulton Street, brings with it a number of innovative features, from its composition — it’s made up of 18 distinct but connected “volumes,” or towers, that range in height from 3 to 5 stories and are connected by open-air walkways; its more than 12,000 square feet of rooftop farming plots; and its small garage, which offers just enough space for a fleet of shared vehicles that will be rentable by tenants.

Without the car-sharing idea, the project would have required room for 71 vehicles. Instead, Berkeley-based developer Nautilus Group decided it would purchase a fleet of four to 10 automobiles and contract with a car-sharing operator called Getaround to run the “car-share pod” operation. (The city required Nautilus to pay for a parking demand study to bolster the justification for that approach.)

Zoning board Commissioner Shoshana O’Keefe described the concept as potentially “genius,” adding that the notion of projects that fold effective car-sharing programs into their plans “might be the magic solution” to the hairy issue of meeting parking demand efficiently in a densely-populated community.

Robust transportation plan set new standard

The small, ground-level garage will include space for four to 10 vehicles; developers say the number in the fleet will be adjusted to ensure an availability rate of 96% to its residents. Given the small space, commissioners expressed concern about whether there would be room for a disabled parking spot, and made setting aside the appropriate space for that spot, somewhere on-site, a condition of project approval.

The project is also set to include ample bike parking options both within units and in other areas on the property. Ceiling-mounted hooks for 154 bikes will be located within the units; another 58 spaces will be available in the basement and in ground-level lockers and racks; and eight sidewalk racks intended for visitors will be installed.

As part of the Garden Village Transportation Plan, developers will provide two AC Transit EasyPasses per unit ($480,000), Bikelink locker cards good for 200-300 hours to every resident ($70,800), and an on-site self-serve bike repair station available to tenants.

Commissioner Sophie Hahn said the transportation plan is the most “robust and thought-through and complete” of anything to come before the zoning board.

The current building at Dwight and Fulton has seen better days. Photo: Nautilus Group

The current building at Dwight and Fulton has seen better days. Photo: Nautilus Group

The project area, in Berkeley’s southside area, covers 27,223 square feet and has frontage on both Dwight and Fulton. The project site now houses a one-story commercial building on the southern portion, fronting on Dwight, and a surface parking lot on the northern portion. The structure, which will be demolished, was built in 1947 as an automobile dealership and service facility, and was converted to offices in 1983.

According to the applicant statement regarding the project, “The buildings are clad in dark brown and quartz-colored wood-textured panels. Grade level pathways on site will re-use brick from the walls of the commercial building which currently occupies the site.”

[Update: The owner of the land is Anthony Levandowski, a leader in Google’s driverless car program.]

“A modernistic interpretation of community living”

To come up with a “fresh approach to student-oriented housing” Nautilus held a design competition, and ultimately chose the work of San Francisco’s Stanley Saitowitz, “whose innovative design represents a modernistic interpretation of community living,” as the winning entry.

Randy Miller, principal at Nautilus Group, told Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board members, in their Oct. 10 meeting, that the company aims “to build the best student housing project in the country.” (Zoning board members pointed out that, legally, tenancy cannot be restricted to students, and that they could imagine young professionals being drawn to the project as well. See a project overview here.)

Miller said Nautilus had surveyed more than 700 students, parents and neighbors nationwide to find out “what do students really need?”

“They said, ‘Give us a private space.’ They needed their own bedroom, but at the same time wanted to live in a collegial environment,” he said. They also said that “design matters,” he added. “It matters a lot to us, too. These are real units.… It’s dignified. It’s a lot better than what I had when I was a student.”

To avoid what he described as “an Animal House situation,” he assured commissioners that there would be on-site professional management during working hours, on-site security from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. nightly, and a resident manager available 24 hours a day. Commissioners made the on-site manager position, for the lifetime of the building, a requirement for approval.

A photo simulation of what the project's rooftop farms could look like. Image: Stanley Saitowitz/Natoma Architects

A photo simulation of what the project’s rooftop farms could look like. Image: Stanley Saitowitz/Natoma Architects

A key element of the project is the rooftop farm, with which Garden Village hopes to break “new ground for the local, organic, & sustainable food movement.” Intensive rooftop farms — which are intended to be visible from the street — are planned above 16 of the 18 building volumes: “The rooftop farm will be the first of its kind in California and will yield approximately 16 tons of produce annually. According to the USDA’s Economic Research Service, this equates to enough fresh vegetables for every daily meal for an estimated 160 people.” The produce — an estimated 32,000 pounds annually — will be available to all residents and the broader community via a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program.

Developers said the idea is part of their effort to maximize the project’s sustainability performance: “With the goal of creating a model for truly low environmental impact housing, Nautilus Group moved away from image focused certification goals and trendy photovoltaics. Instead, they carefully focused on developing deep green value through energy and material efficiency strategies combined with addressing specific underserved community needs like car sharing and local agriculture.”

The farms, run by Berkeley-based Spiral Gardens, will focus on “3-4 popular niche crops such as small fruited tomatoes & specialty lettuce mixes, will regularly produce a total of 15-20 crop types for market and will additionally grow a dozen other crops that regenerate the soil and provide beneficial insect habitat for pest control.”

Bar grate walkways will connect the gardens, and a vertical shaft to a basement processing center will get produce from the roof to street. In addition to the planned CSA available to tenants, Nautilus also plans to sell food at local farmers markets, and hopes simply to break even with the farm operation.

In response to concerns from commissioners about what might happen on the rooftops if the farm doesn’t work out, Miller said Nautilus is committed to the idea, but would come up with a suitable alternative if need be.

“We’re viewing this as a prototype,” he said, adding that Nautilus is looking at the possibility of creating similar farms on other projects the company has in the pipeline, and that he’s “really excited and passionate” about urban farming. “But if it doesn’t work, we fall flat on our face, the worst thing that happens is we turn this into the biggest, most beautiful rooftop garden in Berkeley.”

(Many more details about the farming operation are available beginning on page 27 of the applicant statement.)

A bedroom layout at 2201 Dwight. Image: Stanley Saitowitz/Natoma Architects

One bedroom layout at 2201 Dwight. Image: Stanley Saitowitz/Natoma Architects

All the units in the project will be furnished, and are set to include a full kitchen as well as a washer and dryer. Forty-one of the units will have four bedrooms, and 36 are set to include two bedrooms. Seven very-low-income units, the full number required under the city code, will be provided on site; three will have two bedrooms and the rest will have four, according to the city staff report prepared for the zoning board meeting.

In most cases, bedroom occupancy will be limited to one person, and a light cleaning service will be provided every other week.

The building will be constructed using factory-built modules (two modules per two- bedroom unit, and three modules per four-bedroom unit), to reduce construction time and waste generated during the building process, according to the staff report.

Community feedback was key

Image: Stanley Saitowitz/Natoma Architects

Image: Stanley Saitowitz/Natoma Architects

In response to community feedback, from the public, the Design Review Committee and the Zoning Adjustments Board, developers made a range of adjustments to the project. These included a partial height reduction along Fulton, as well as a reduction in the initial unit number and planned occupancy, and increased setbacks and open space.

Several in attendance credited Berkeley resident Nathan George with his work over the past 10 months offering suggestions that ultimately improved the design.

George, speaking to the commission, noted that “every single abutting property owner is opposed,” but acknowledged that the developer had made changes in response to concerns he and others had identified. He said he wasn’t yet fully happy with the property setbacks and massing, but said he had “tried my best” to advocate for important changes, and that he was ready to be done with the struggle.

Nine other members of the public spoke in favor of the project.

Commissioners thanked the developer for listening to George and other public feedback. Said Commissioner Sophie Hahn: “You’ve really worked with the community and made changes to your design. You’re not taking everything that might be available to you if you pushed really hard and wanted to play hardball.”

Commissioner Igor Tregub called the design “bold but harmonious,” adding that it is “one of the most interesting proposals that’s come before us.”

Another commissioner, George Williams, said the project will “set a standard for development in the future,” and noted “the neatness of the land-use pattern.” Williams said the distinct buildings, which were described as both “towers” and “volumes,” effectively break up the building massing and include wide green spaces in between.

The board voted unanimously to approve the plans and, after a suggestion by Commissioner Deborah Matthews, asked for a review by staff one year after occupancy begins to see whether the operation is going smoothly.

Miller said after the meeting that the project is scheduled to open by summer 2015, with groundbreaking to come next June. Units are tentatively slated to cost $800-$1,000 per resident.

“We are extremely excited that ZAB recognized the widespread community support for Garden Village’s unique design, environmental features and community benefits, and unanimously approved the project,” he said. “Through the community’s input, we were able to design and present a project that we can all be proud of. We look forward to breaking ground as soon as the city will allow us, and hope to see all of our neighbors and supporters at the ribbon cutting ceremony once Garden Village is completed.”

Learn more at DiscoverGardenVillage.com, where those who are interested can sign up for email updates about the project.

‘The Aquatic’ wins easy approval from Berkeley officials (10.11.13)
Zoning board asks micro-unit developer to shrink proposal (09.27.13)
Berkeley neighbors fight micro-unit proposal on Shattuck (08.20.13)
Developer submits 8-story project for University, Milvia (07.30.13)
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)

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  • Luke

    It’s not like providing housing will cause an epidemic of fertility. How is having residents in Berkeley any worse than having residents in, I don’t know, Tracy, where they’d probably have a yard to water? Residential water use is pretty much a rounding error if you don’t have a yard. It all goes to agriculture and golf courses.

    This just sounds like so much more NIMBYism (but this time it’s about water instead of traffic)

  • EBGuy

    Thanks. Now THAT explains why the project steps down to four stories on Fulton.

  • Erica_JS

    I see the issue exactly backwards from how you see it. Berkeley has gotten so expensive that almost nobody in the younger generation can even dream of living there long-term. The only people who can afford to live there are tech millionaires, and older people who were lucky enough to buy in when prices were low. And who are now seeking to “draw up the ladder behind them” with zoning codes so that the great unwashed cannot come into their quaint little town and change it in any way.

    Of course I would prefer to live in a charming Craftsman bungalow with a yard but the rent on that in Berkeley would cost $2500 and up right now – WAY more than your average young person or young family can afford to pay. So it’s not a choice between a single family home in Berkeley and a small apartment in Berkeley – it’s a choice between a small apartment, and not being able to live there at all. Many older people in Berkeley are just fine with keeping “US,” the young and poor, out of “THEIR” town that they want to preserve in amber circa 1985. That leaves younger people with the only option of living far away in a sprawl suburb and commuting in. How is that environmentally friendly?

  • guest

    University built housing won’t contribute property taxes to the city.

  • berkeleycitizen

    No studios or one-bedroom units? Is the City trying to get rid of its many single residents, or are there plans to build for them at some point?

  • guest

    Have you ever grown things in big planters? They’re talking about growing vegetables for the most part – they’ll grow items that won’t need extra deep root space. If they do green composting they can enrich the soil in the planter boxes as well.There are lots of places that do this type of roof top gardening CSA’s

  • berkeleycitizen

    Rooftop gardens have been thriving atop buildings in London for years now, with fruit and vegetables going to feed the needy. With Berkeley’s more temperate climate, they should be extremely successful.

  • berkeleycitizen

    Berkeley’s sewer system is also very old. I heard about the need for expensive upgrades many years ago, but not if anything has been done about that. How do all these new high-rise developments propose to deal with that situation?

  • Hyper_lexic

    it’s self-described as a “fresh approach to student-oriented housing”, so it seems to be a focused purpose. Most of the other projects being developed have a lot of studio/1BR units.

  • gsr

    I’m curious how one decides who is “deserving” of low-income housing and who is just “scoring” a cheap apartment. Are only “traditional” families (parents+kids) “actual” families? Are low-income college students just faking living in poverty? What constitutes an “actual job”, and why does the primary mode of instruction on campus (teaching assistants) not count?

  • EBGuy

    Uhhh…. dorms don’t have private kitchens? (Discuss) For reference, these units are slightly larger than the four bedroom apartments at the recently built Martinez Commons. Also, the kitchen living space in the Martinez Commons units is smaller and the MC units only have one bathroom. So I’d describe Garden Village as ‘bigger and better’. YMMV.

  • Rob Wrenn

    The developer qualified for a density bonus by agreeing to include 10% of units that would be affordable to relevantly sized households with incomes that are 50% of area median income or less. Rents are set based on the affordability standard that rent should be no more than 30% of a household’s income. I think they are estimating that rent on the affordable 4-bdrm units would be $1111 and rent on the 2-bdrms would be $944 a month. Grad students with families with TA salary as the primary source of income might very well qualify as their household income could easily be below $40-55k.. I think the units are designed so that there is one room in each unit that could hold a double bed, though none are designed to hold a queen size bed. Generally the bedrooms are small, targeting single students. I lived in UC housing for married students and I think my 2 bdrm unit had about 800 sq ft, so these units would be smaller than that, but the below market units would have lower rents than what they currently charge at UC’s Albany Village for married students. When I was in married student housing, the rent was around $390-425 a month and a TA salary was $800-$1000 or so. I don’t remember the specific numbers. What’s a TA salary these days?

  • Hyper_lexic

    Got it. Thanks!

  • Randy

    When you plan a project like this, you have to go to all of the utilities for “Will Serve” letters. The utilities then review their systems to verify that they have adequate capacity before confirming that they will serve the proposed project. If upgrades are required, the developer must pay. Even if upgrades are not required, large connection fees are assessed to cover future system upgrades. This project will pay at least $800,000 to EBMUD for future infrastructure upgrades.

  • guest

    This may be true simply as a supply/demand function. Current parking requirements force developers to oversupply parking. Extra supply drives the value of parking down. In the Southside area it is not hard to find private parking for under $80/mo. Not cheap perhaps, but less than many other urban areas. However, $80/mo is not nearly enough to cover the cost of developing structured or underground parking.

    The flip side of this coin is that while strict parking ratio requirements may keep the cost of unbundled parking down, they also contribute to high apartment rents. The cost of providing parking actually represents a significant portion of the total cost of building an apartment unit. When a developer considers a project, if the cost of developing the project including parking exceeds the expected value of the completed project, or the present value of the future rent stream, the project doesn’t get built.

    Strict parking requirements for new buildings contribute to a supply constrained apartment market (i.e. high rents).

  • guest

    That might work for a garage that could charge transients $20/day, but not at an apartment building. Your $5k/year is $417/month. No apartment building in Berkeley could charge that much for unbundled parking.

  • affordability

    For one thing we should skeptical of developer claims about the cost of these spaces because they have incentive to exaggerate and there is no mechanism to check them. Even if they don’t exaggerate, the costs they are talking about include the financing costs and those, in turn, reflect the expectations of investors. If the investors believe that they can hold out for large parking rule exceptions, and thus dedicate more space to higher-rent uses, they’ll adjust their expectations accordingly. To the developer, those raised expectations count as “costs”. That’s why I say that lax application of parking standards drives up the cost per space.

    For another thing, I was speaking mainly of “car free” development and other very large exceptions to the requirements. If you think that the ratio is slightly too high, that’s a separate conversation.

  • Charles_Siegel

    Investors “set their expectations” by thinking about the returns they can get for any investment anywhere – not just by thinking about the returns they can get by investing in housing in Berkeley.

  • Elvis Presley

    Or, you could just not have three (or more) kids…

  • Chris J

    Being one of those ‘older people’ who bought into Berkeley nearly 20 years ago when home prices were still fairly manageable, I must take issue with your painting all of us as wanting to keep this town a little ‘Pleasantville’. This is a frickin COLLEGE town and there will always be young people, striving to live close to campus, etc. and I and my family moved to Berkeley because it was young and vibrant and interesting. That was 1993.

    Now its 2013 and there is a growing problem with housing, cost of living, etc. such that, as someone posited, only wealthy techie career people can afford to buy into. Yah, lots of problems I admit, but lumping me with a pile of sedentary baby boomers who are trying to keep out young and homeless is not acceptable.

    For what its worth, our time in Berkeley is limited–my wife and I realize that to continue to live here in the manner we have grown accustomed to with our existing savings for retirement, anticipated social security benefits from retirement, will mean that we would both need to continue to work well into our early 70s at least (we are 58 and 60) and frankly, neither of us are keen on ‘having to’ work that long.

    Options include out of state, out of country to locales that are much more affordable for our retirement income, and if we choose to work, to do activities we both enjoy that might also pay; something my last five years of employment have been pushing me toward, then well and good.

    The economics of this country and its social impact affects not only college age kids and their parents, but also folks retiring, trying to hold onto jobs and putting pressure on younger folks looking for work, too. Maybe best if I step aside to Costa Rica and let some young guy have his own career while I work and bake bread in Guatemala or somewhere overseas?

    Sorry for the segue…

  • EBGuy

    More importantly, where can a get one of these for my backyard (okay, I don’t have a backyard, but if I did….)
    Also, can any of our local architects, urban planners or smart growth wonks (Charles?) point out developments similar to this: that is, five story, compact (1000 sq.sft) towers connected by open walkways. I’d be curious to see what a built (and lived in) version looks like. Or is this some brave, new prefab frontier?

  • jake

    “working” people should face the market forces like everyone else.

  • jake

    hideous design

  • jake

    “needed density” ?? there is plenty of available land in Fairfield

  • jake


  • mtaysic

    I see your point but some of those kids might be the kids of the very families you are talking about… low income families.

  • EBGuy

    First tower is up. Anyone got pics of “construction”?