Berkeley staff recommend rejection of micro-unit plans

City staff say a proposal for a new building at 2701 Shattuck Ave. is still too big. Image: Lowney Architecture

City staff say a proposal for a new building at 2701 Shattuck Ave. is still too big. Image: Lowney Architecture

A controversial micro-unit mixed-used proposal aimed for a quiet stretch of Shattuck Avenue, south of downtown, is still too big, say Berkeley city staff, who advised zoning board members to deny the application later this week.

The project, at 2701 Shattuck, at Derby, is scheduled for its third review by the city Zoning Adjustments Board on Thursday. The project has received extensive feedback from city commissioners, who asked developers to shrink the project in September, citing concerns about its compatibility with the nearby residential neighborhood.

In response to suggestions made by the city in September to consider dropping the project from five to four stories, or otherwise take off a healthy number of units from the northeast corner, Axis Development Group removed three units and added more community and open space to the project.

City staff, in a report prepared for Thursday’s meeting, said Axis should remove three more units from the fourth floor to allow a more gradual transition into the neighborhood to the east. This would reduce the building height at the northeast corner from 52 to 42 feet.

According to staff, however, Axis rejected recommendations that as many as 12 units be removed from the project’s upper floors, and instead submitted its revised plan, removing only three units.

As a result, wrote city staff, in its recommendation to the zoning board to deny the project, the development remains incompatible with the neighborhood. Staff also wrote that the project is out of scale with the district, as the tallest proposed building on Shattuck south of downtown; that it doesn’t provide an adequate transition to the neighborhood to the east; that it’s out of scale with the residential district; and that the applicant rejected design alternatives suggested by city staff and zoning board members.

Developers removed three units from the top floor, and added open space into the project, in their latest submission. Image: Lowney Architecture

Developers removed three units from the top floor, and replaced it with a landscaped terrace, in the latest submission. Image: Lowney Architecture

The project, as submitted, is a 29,909-square-foot five-story building that reaches 60 feet. It’s set to include 67 studio apartments, a 1,956-square-foot full-service restaurant and 32 parking spaces (30 of which would be accessed via a three-level lift). Units range from 269 to 344 square feet and could cost somewhere between $1,200 and $1,600 a month, according to the developer.

In its latest revision, Axis increased the ground-floor space between its property and the nearest neighbors to the east, according to city staff. Axis also increased the size of a second-floor community room — described by the developer as a resident lounge with a full-sized commercial kitchen, “living room-style seating, a TV/Entertainment area, and a communal dining table” — from about 700 to roughly 1,000 square feet. The room now includes dining and fitness areas.

In addition to removing three units from the fifth floor, Axis added a 912-square-foot deck to the project to increase open space for tenants. (Project history and technical details are available in this staff report.) A roof-top terrace for tenants and a mini-park at street-level, which would be open to the public, are also part of the designs.

According to the statement prepared by Axis for Thursday’s meeting, the project would be constructed to LEED Gold standards. Developers say the project supports alternative transportation via car-share for residents and neighbors; 28 unbundled residential parking spaces; free AC transit passes for residents; 67 secured interior bike parking spaces, with 20 more sidewalk spaces; and BikeLink storage locker cards for every resident.

Residents opposing the project sent roughly 20 letters outlining various issues with the current plans, from the size of the building to the size of the units. They took issue with the building massing, lack of setbacks, encroachment onto public space and the impact on rental rates around town, in addition to other aspects of the project.

Roughly 41 residents, many of whom wrote individual letters as well, signed a joint statement outlining those concerns, which was turned in for consideration by the zoning board. They noted that the developer did not provide a four-story alternative, which they said was requested by the zoning board in September, and called the removal of three units from the project “absolutely not enough.”

“We find this latest lack of responsiveness to be utterly dismissive of the staff, the neighbors, and the ZAB,” they wrote, asking the zoning board to affirm the staff recommendation to deny the project.

The zoning board is scheduled to review the staff recommendations Thursday, and hear from neighbors and the applicant. Staff provided findings for the board to use to deny the project if it affirms the staff position, but the board could choose to take alternative action as well.

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)
First high-rise in 40 years planned for downtown Berkeley (12.21.12)
Berkeley developer sees future in small, smart apartments (03.08.12)

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  • Chris Harrelson

    It is what we do though – we can make sure to approve reasonable projects like this that provide housing. Not sure what you meant about shortage – if you build enough housing there will not be a shortage.

  • Charles_Siegel

    I agree that there will not always be a shortage of housing.

    In the 1950s and 1960s, there was such a large supply of housing that it was possible to find apartments with low rents, and neighborhoods were even being abandoned because the rents were so low that they could not pay for basic maintenance. The south Bronx is the most famous example, but there were also many vacant lots in my central Berkeley neighbohood.

    I have lived in several houses in central Berkeley that were built as middle-class homes early in the 20th century, that were converted to low income rentals in the 1950s, and that have since been gentrified and converted to middle-class homes again.

    It happened because so much housing was built in the 1950s and 1960s, when suburban sprawl took off, because the Federal government supported it.

    I don’t want to see more sprawl, but I think we could have similar Federal programs supporting more housing development in walkable neighborhoods, which could keep housing more affordable if we built enough housing.

    PS: As far as I know, only one of those vacant lots still exists in central Berkeley. It is on a residential street, and you can see that it was originally a home (you can still see some of the concrete steps that were in front), but the housing was abandoned and demolished, and the lot is now used for parking.

    There were many similar lots in the neighborhood when I first moved there. Can anyone identify the one that remains?

  • Recent berkeley condo buyer

    …And you wouldn’t find many condos that you’d actually wanna occupy for $330k in Berkeley – try closer to $400!

  • Truth Sayer

    I would not be so smug regarding crime in Richmond. According to the FBI, Berkeley has a population of 113,903, and 482 violent crimes were committed in 2011. Though 1,035 violent crimes were committed in Richmond (less populated) that same year, the violent crimes in Berkeley do not include 5,064 property crimes, 976 burglaries, 3,460 larceny/thefts, and 628 auto thefts in one year. These facts don’t give me a warm and cozy comfort feeling.

  • Truth Sayer

    What I meant about shortage is very simple. There is a limited amount of available space and financial support; AKA money. To say that “f you build enough housing there will not be a shortage” completely ignores the the fact that there are very few city or county locations available to build, and taxpayers in Berkeley are paying one of the highest real estate tax rates in the country. Simply put, there is no yellow brick road.

  • Truth Sayer

    Yes, there are empty lots in Berkeley. Most are owned by individuals; and are for sale for a hefty price. Its really odd that we can talk about affordable housing, but many avoid the issue of funding affordable housing.

  • Truth Sayer

    The issues they take are tall buildings mean more people. And most people have automobiles that needs to be parked when not in use.. Also, more people on the street means more opportunities to commit crimes; such as the Berkeley campus (see link).,4578967.345734241&z=13&mc=world-street&cc=AR,AS,BU,DP,DR,DU,FR,HO,VT,RO,SX,TH,VA,VB,WE&db=5/20/2013&de=11/15/2013

  • BerkeleyCitizen

    $1,200-1,600 a month for 269-344 square feet! Then there’s the cost of utilities. How about some AFFORDABLE apartments?

  • BerkeleyCitizen

    I’m not aware of anyone having expressed interest in living in them. It seems to be a case of the developer wanting to put up something that people will live in if they have no other choice.

  • emraguso

    The reason I described it as a quiet stretch is because there isn’t that much happening in terms of street life. Neighbors and city commissioners said repeatedly that this project would potentially activate a corridor they described as underserved. Numerous people said that the location would potentially be a bad fit for the project because there isn’t very much to do in the area — beyond Berkeley Bowl, Kirala and Walgreens. I definitely don’t see that block or the surrounding ones as “lively” in the way the downtown or North Shattuck are.