New 120-foot building proposed for downtown Berkeley

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The Nasser family has owned this building complex at the southeast corner of Shattuck and Berkeley Way since 1950 and now plans to turn it into a 12-story apartment complex. Photo: Google Streetview

A San Francisco family that has owned a block of stores on Shattuck Avenue and Berkeley Way since 1950 is planning to build a 120-foot tall apartment complex, called L’Argent, that will cater to empty nesters and families.

The Nasser family, whose ancestor, Abraham Nasser, built the Castro Theater in San Francisco and was instrumental in popularizing Nickelodeon theaters, will submit an application to Berkeley on Dec. 19, according to Jim Novosel, whose firm, The Bay Architects, is designing the project. Novosel’s group will hold a public hearing on the complex Wednesday at 3 p.m. at Bistro Liaison, 1849 Shattuck Ave.

The 12-story, mixed-use development at 1951-1975 Shattuck Ave. will have 78 apartments of 1,200 to 1,600 square feet on 10 floors, and retail space on two floors, said Novosel. The complex will be set back along Shattuck Avenue to create a plaza, and will be set back 14-17 feet along Berkeley Way as well.

“We are going for a middle-class housing market,” said Novosel, who is also a Berkeley Planning Commissioner. “We are going for people who are trying to get down from the hills, who want to give up their big homes…. who want to move downtown but live in spacious apartments, not student apartments.”

The units will be comparable in size to many of the bungalows in the Berkeley flats, he said.

Berkeley’s Downtown Plan allows for the construction of five tall buildings ranging from 120 feet to 180 feet high. One project, the 17-story 355 unit Residences at Berkeley Plaza at 2211 Harold Way, is winding its way through the city planning process. Another group is working on a design for a 180-foot hotel and office complex on the Bank of America site at Shattuck Avenue and Center Street, according to sources who asked not to be named. That group might also submit an application within the next few weeks.

The proposed apartment complex at 1951-1975 Shattuck Ave. will displace a number of small stores lining Berkeley Way and Shattuck Avenue, including Berkeley Vacuum, and The Cutaway, among others.

The owners of Berkeley Vacuum & Sewing Center, brothers Gerald and Chris Seegmiller, only heard on Saturday that the Nasser family wants to tear down their building and replace it. Gerald Seegmiller was still trying to process the news on Monday, and he veered between despair and resignation, not sure if the business could find an affordable location and retrain its customers to follow them. Novosel told him that it would take from two to three years for the project to win approval, and that the businesses could stay through then.

“We’ve been a small Berkeley business for decades — literally,” said Seegmiller. “It’s not too pleasant. “Leases are skyrocketing. Available property in parts of Berkeley I would like to have my business in are not available, are not to be found. We are the same as Berkeley Ace Hardware — we have no place to go.”

Seegmiller said Berkeley Vacuum supports five families, and the new structure “will deeply impact people who have been depending on the business for a long time.”

Novosel did not have any design drawings to share, but said his firm would bring renderings to the Wednesday meeting at Bistro Liaison. Berkeleyside will publish the drawings when they are available.

Related:
Work begins on controversial Berkeley housing project (12.03.13)
Zoning board denies Berkeley micro-unit proposal (11.21.13)
‘The Overture’ apartments planned on University Ave. (11.19.13)
Work underway for 4-story MLK apartments in Berkeley (11.18.13)
Berkeley staff recommend rejection of micro-unit plans (11.13.13)
Berkeley settles case with blighted Telegraph lot owner (10.31.13)
First high rise in 40 years planned for downtown Berkeley (12.12.12)

For details and images of many of the new building projects underway in Berkeley, check out Berkeleyside’s recent real estate articles.

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  • Charles_Siegel

    That is a perfect example of the failure of this sort of modernist design. It was considered very advanced in the 1960s, but it failed and cities abandoned it. Yet Berkeley is moving backwards by reviving it.

  • Ummm…

    Once again, to say that a project is good (or bad) because it “increases
    urban density” is to speak nonsense, even if you double down by
    dragging out the specter of climate change.

    No, not really. The real nonsense here is the idea that “it is unclear” that creating walkable neighborhoods and decreasing car use by urban residents will decrease the use of fossil fuels.

    More walkable neighborhoods = less car use = less burning of fossil fuels. You say so yourself in your own comment.

    It is true that urban density tends to be associated with reduced car
    use and thus fewer emissions per capita within such urban regions.

    So, again, do you have any real comments about why increasing density in urban
    areas – especially along retail drags like this one – is a bad thing? Because so far none of your own arguments against it hold water.

  • bgal4

    Since when did the library or coffee shop put up relatives overnight? rather than chicken empty nesters need a space for children and grandchildren to sleep when they come for a visit and a place for hobbies and activities . Tomatoes grow quite nicely on a small deck.

    Our family of four did fine with one car for the last three decades.

  • $13 on Amazon or $40 retail in an anachronistic shop. Your choice.

    http://www.amazon.com/Dyson-Aftermarket-Floors-Silver-904125-14/dp/B00135TE5I/

  • guest

    Are you referring to the Chase at Center & Shattuck? The plaza there is quite nice, when it isn’t being taken over by protesters and panhandlers.

  • fywar

    Where did you get the price? Does Berkeley Vacuum have them in stock?

  • Geech

    First, they may end up where they are today. Second, they have years to plan any possible move. Third, there are lots of currently empty storefronts on University, Shattuck, MLK, etc. they could move into. Literally within a block or two of where they all are right now.

  • Geech

    Move into one of the multiple empty storefronts across the street or even around the corner?

  • dianarossi

    I am with you here, Abigail, on your concern for the displacement of these small businesses. I would imagine that these operations have a lot less excess capital to weather a move. I too wonder if some kind of protection for existing small businesses could be incorporated into some of this new downtown building. Part of community to me, is also being able to patronize these small business and use their services. Their smaller level of operation makes interaction much more personal. Of course, that is one part of what makes a community.
    I love Ace and Berkeley Vacuum/Sewing and what about Missing Link Bicycle Repair? I hope that this building boom won’t subsume our community’s soul.

  • pacific smatters

    More walkable neighborhoods = less car use = less burning of fossil fuels.

    If only life were that simple. This isn’t a hard concept:

    Increased density may be associated with a net reduction in emissions or a net increase. You must account not only for emissions from the urban area itself but also indirect emissions: emissions taking place because of the density increase but not at the site of the density increase.

    You complained:

    You say so yourself in your own comment.

    It is true that urban density tends to be associated with reduced car use and thus fewer emissions per capita within such urban regions.

    What I said is that urban density tends to be associated with reduced emissions per capita at the site of that density. If you consider the totality of systems that supports the population living there, there may or may not be a net reduction or a net increase in emissions overall.

  • Charles_Siegel

    On another issue: no details have been released, but I am guessing that this project will probably have one parking space for each unit, since developers usually believe that you need the parking to rent or sell to the more upscale customers that this building is aiming at.

    Yet cities have begun to allow condo projects (aimed at this more upscale market, since they are sold rather than rented) that have reduced parking or no parking:

    “Officials in Boston gave their approval last week to what Curbed called the city’s “first big-time parking-less condo,” a 175-unit project named Lovejoy Wharf.

    “Miami’s under-development, 352-unit Centro Lofts will have just five Car2Go spaces, covered bicycle parking, and a space for a future bike sharing station. No storage for private cars. … according to the Miami Herald: If you think this sort of thing won’t fly in auto-centric Miami, guess again. Half of Centro’s 352 units are sold even though the building hasn’t broken ground.”
    http://dc.streetsblog.org/2013/12/10/real-estate-trend-parking-free-apartment-buildings/

    Miami also has form-based codes, so maybe they are just ahead of Berkeley.

  • tor_berg

    That’s a pretty fascinating survey, but in essence, Dodman argues that increasing urban density in high-income industrialized countries virtually always represents a net decrease in greenhouse gas emissions. He writes that things get dicey when it comes to very dense cities in low- and middle-income countries; that is, cities with poor access to clean technology and with population densities that are already an order of magnitude more dense than the SF Bay Area.

    Berkeley’s population density at the last census was about 4,100 people per square kilometer. That is not dense at all. Berkeley’s population could double, and we would have a density that is comparable to West Hollywood, which itself is only slightly more dense than San Francisco.

    Berkeley has a long, long, long way to go before we reach a population density that might theoretically mitigate other reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

    You’ve made a pretty contentious statement, and you’re being kind of cagey about how it applies to Berkeley. How specifically might increasing density in downtown Berkeley increase net regional greenhouse gas emissions?

  • Ummm…

    If only life were that simple. This isn’t a hard concept

    You’re right, it isn’t a hard concept. You continue to argue against common sense, arguing that increasing walkability of neighborhoods will somehow increase greenhouse gas emissions, and you continue to misunderstand the very paper you’ve linked to. The instances of higher density not decreasing emissions cited in the paper are third world slums in India, Asia, and Africa. In first world countries cited, areas of increased density like Barcelona or NYC show far less greenhouse gas emission per capita than less dense areas.

  • Mrdrew3782

    This sucks. I have been going to The Cutaway for 20 years or so now. Best quick haircut in downtown. I guess its good that there will be more housing it’s still sad though to lose all those small unique storefronts. Everyone must know though I will go full commando if anyone dare touches Oscars.

  • North Berkeley Resident

    Berkeley Vacuum is one of the best consumer services in Berkeley. I feel very sad that they and Ace Hardware could be displaced. Ever since Kress and Co op Hardware left,this is becoming a neighborhood of restaurants with very little residential services.

  • MarcusHart

    What type of emissions tend to increase outside of the dense urban site?

  • bgal4

    Yeah that is what most grandparents do when they care for the little ones so the adults can have a holiday.

  • TN

    I’m not sure, but I don’t think that this would be the first time that Berkeley Vacuum relocated. My vague recollection is that a couple decades ago, they were located on University Avenue near their current location. They’re obviously still around.

    I don’t share the doom and gloom about small businesses having to move. There is plenty of older retail space available for lease in convenient locations in Berkeley along Shattuck, University and San Pablo. Although I’m sure that there are a few customers who walk or take a bus to this particular shop, I would think that most people would drive considering how bulky vacuums are to carry around for any distance.

    Berkeley is a town where we still have two businesses that repair manual typewriters! I think that customers will follow Berkeley Vacuum where ever they move.

  • Guest

    Hot air from internet pundits and armchair experts.

  • pacific smatters

    That’s a pretty fascinating survey, but in essence, Dodman argues that increasing urban density in high-income industrialized countries virtually always represents a net decrease in greenhouse gas emissions.

    Dodman exxplicitly warns against drawing the conclusion you are drawing.

    Detailed discussion of why begins on page 8 and continues on page 9. I’ll highlight this one bit that is particularly relevant to Berkeley:

    Conversely, some of the apparent climate change mitigation benefits of high urban densities in industrialized countries may be a consequence of the spatial displacement of greenhouse gas generating activities to other locations within the same country or internationally. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions – or addressing climate change mitigation concerns – can only be meaningfully achieved through a process of reducing both direct and indirect emissions.

    In the conclusion of the paper he offers (emphasis added):

    In summary, therefore, density is one of several major components affecting the ways in which urban areas will influence and be affected by a changing climate. Adopting ‘increasing densification’ as a strategy without assessing these other factors – including distribution of employment opportunities and the nature of transportation systems – is not likely to provide lasting sustainability or resilience benefits. Yet in association with a wider awareness of urban form and process, well-planned, effectively-managed, and densely-settled towns and cities can help to limit greenhouse gas emissions and facilitate resilience to the challenges of climate change.

    Let’s hold this up against the situation in Berkeley (and the region).

    We have regional roadmap plans to increase density and significantly improve public transportation.

    There’s the first weakness right there. Increasing density and improving public transportation are two distinct processes. They don’t work hand in hand.

    Density increases when jurisdictions adjust their zoning codes as necessary and infill developers start getting project approvals.

    Increasing density is, on the current course, a done deal.

    In contrast: significantly improving public transportation will — if it occurs at all — require enourmous increases in public spending and the funding for that is not in place. It will require lots of detailed centralized planning that hasn’t been done. It will require approvals and concessions by many authorities all around the region.

    Have a look at the high speed rail project before you believe that the Bay Area’s public transportation improvements will keep pace with its infill development approvals.

    There are other reasons to be highly skeptical of the regions’ sustainability plans. To the best of my knowledge their emissions accounting for greater density doesn’t take into account the indirect emissions associated with necessary improvements to public infrastructure to accomodate the higher density: power systems, sanitary sewers, water supply, power supply, telecommunications infrastructure. The plans don’t contemplate the impact urban consumption patterns (e.g. imports of manufactured goods; increased reliance on industrial farming).

    In short, the one guarantee of these plans is that there will be infill and the rest is vague hope. Yet the (questionably) projected sustainability gains rely on all those hopes coming true, smoothly and quickly.

  • pacific smatters

    What type of emissions tend to increase outside of the dense urban site?

    See my answer to tor_berg.

  • pacific smatters

    The instances of higher density not decreasing emissions cited in the paper are third world slums in India, Asia, and Africa.

    You have not understood the material on pages 8 and 9 nor the conclusion in the context of this discussion. My reply to tor_berg might help you.

  • Tim Ereneta

    The buzzword bingo players would heartily endorse such a proposal!

  • guest

    In this conclusion, he is talking about the effects of densities in all nations of the world, but elsewhere he makes it clear that density reduces emissions in the wealthier nations, such as the USA:

    “The residents of the densely populated cities of low- and middle-income countries are generally wealthier than residents of their hinterlands, yet far less wealthy than residents of the (less densely populated) cities in high-income countries. This confounds a straightforward relationship between urban density and greenhouse gas emissions: in low-income countries, residents of denser settlements are likely to have higher per capita emissions as a function of their greater wealth than residents of surrounding areas; in high-income countries, residents of denser settlements are likely to have lower per capita emissions than residents of surrounding areas as a result of smaller housing units and greater use of public transportation systems.”

    Actually, it is a mistake to say that density reduces automobile use primarily because of “greater use of public transportation systems.” Public transportation has some effect, but the shorter distance that people need to travel has an even greater effect. Even if everyone drove on every trip, people would drive less as cities became denser.

    In addition, much more infrastructure is needed to accommodate low density sprawl than to accommodate high density development, more “power systems, sanitary sewers, water supply, power supply, telecommunications infrastructure.”

    In addition, our suburbs generally have the same “urban” consumption patterns as higher-density areas. San Ramon and San Francisco have roughly the same dependence on “imports of manufactured goods; increased reliance on industrial farming.”

    We are not talking about replacing farms and small towns with high-density development. We are talking about building high-density development within existing urbanized areas – which actually protects small towns and farms that would otherwise be engulfed by housing tracts and Wal-marts built at the fringes of these urbanized areas.

  • pacific smatters

    elsewhere he makes it clear that density reduces emissions in the wealthier nations, such as the USA

    Nope. He points out that extant urban density is currently correlated with reduced emissions. He also says explicitly, repeatedly (see the quotes above, for example) that this does not mean “increase urban density” is a strategy for reducing emissions. He offers reasons (see the quotes above and their context) why a strategy of increasing urban density can go wrong, right here in the good ol’ USA.

    As an example, one of the ways it can go wrong is if transportation systems fail to keep up with development. Gee, how could that ever happen around here

  • Doc

    Are we really saying Berkeley can’t have public space? Sad.

  • Ummm…

    No, not really. In fact it seems to be you who misunderstands the information presented in the article and the conclusion being drawn. It seems that in your anti-development or anti-density view you are only looking at the parts of the paper that support your bias while ignoring the totality of the piece.

  • Ummm…

    Nope.

    Yep, in fact. Again, it seems that those who hold an
    anti-development or anti-density view are only looking at the parts
    of the paper that support their bias while ignoring the totality of the
    piece, which clearly and demonstrably finds that increasing density in first-world nations decreases net greenhouse gas emission by half or more.

    It seems odd for someone to repeatedly cite a source and then completely ignore half of what it says – and even pretend that information isn’t really there – but I suppose we have all types in a community as diverse as Berkeley.

  • guest

    Any response to the multiple other points in that comment? Shortened distances? Reduced infrastructure needs? Increased urban density as preferable environmentally to the suburban sprawl it replaces?

  • Jacob Lynn

    Increasing density, even in the absence of better public transit, is almost certain to reduce per-capita emissions in the US. Less infrastructure is required per capita at high densities (especially road, stormwater, and the electrical grid), and destinations are more likely to be in convenient walking or cycling distance.

    And you imply that the political path to increased density is easy while that to better public transit is difficult. They strike me as of similar political difficulty.

    (By the way, Berkeley’s population in 2010 was lower than that of 1970 — the barbarian hordes aren’t exactly at the gates just yet.)

    None of this is to say that strong public transit is forgettable — on the contrary, it’s incredibly important as well, and worthy of our support.

  • Guest

    I think you’re being a bit impolite, so these will be my last words here.

    1. I’m not saying having more space is bad or wrong, just that more space comes with trade-offs in cost and/or location, and the downsides of smaller spaces can in many cases be mitigated by those trade-offs.

    2. The average new house in the US in 1950 was 983 square feet. It is thus conceivable to me that two mature, thinking people could somehow muddle along in a space of less than 1000 square feet.

  • Jacob Lynn

    1. I’m not saying having more space is bad or wrong, just that more space comes with trade-offs in cost and/or location, and the downsides of smaller spaces can in many cases be mitigated by those trade-offs.

    2. The average new house in the US in 1950 was 983 square feet. It is thus conceivable to me that two mature, thinking people could somehow muddle along in a space of less than 1000 square feet.

    3. Kids don’t mind sleeping on the couch. I even remember thinking (as a kid) that sleeping on the couch was fun! Probably because it usually went along with family vacations.

  • MarcusHart

    While you are not incorrect that the assumed benefits are a hope, you also have only raised these concerns, without demonstrating that increased density will cause increased emissions. Your claim is just a concern, as much of a vague hope as the one you are arguing against. There are strategies that can mitigate any potential indirect emissions increases due to public infrastructure. The bigger fear, I would say (and you indicate this elsewhere), is who pays for it? Mitigating emissions increases will always cost money though. If we want to do something, we have to pay for it, bottom line. Regardless of the level of urban density.

    There are many other tangible benefits to increased urban density: more demand for services and businesses will attract more services and businesses, which will improve the quality of life in many ways for not just the people moving into the new housing, but to existing residents. People *love* walkable neighborhoods, and they are willing to pay a higher price to live in a home that is walkable to grocery stores, restaurants, theaters, etc. Increased property values and density lead to more local tax revenue which can be used for public infrastructure. Developments also have to pay direct connection fees for the sewer and water system to pay for their impact to the system. Really, reduced emissions is a secondary benefit, in my view, not the main justification for increased urban density.

  • serkes

    Next step would be to make a checklist of the 12-24 most commonly used words, in order of descending frequency.

    Then, rather than typing a response, we could simply check off the relevant words and click Post.

    Would go a long way to streamlining responses.

    Ira

  • serkes

    My family, and most of my friends on Bronx Park East, consisted of mom, dad and 2 kids in a 1 bedroom apartment. If there was a boy and a girl, someone often slept in the foyer. I never measured the apartment, but would guess that it was about 1,000 ft².

    Not that it was good or bad … or necessarily something I’d want to do again, but we managed to survive.

    I grew up in a very wealthy family … we just didn’t have any money.

    Ira

  • Ummm…

    …and then proceeded to have the argument torn to shreds within a matter of hours by several different posters.

    You might want to read through the responses that “pacific smatters” was unable to counter before basing your world view on their comments.

  • Elmwood_Neighbor

    I have always heard that the parking lot at Helios Center would be where the replacement building for Tolman Hall (slated to eventually be demolished due to cost of seismic retrofit) and would house Public Health, Psychology, Education and possibly the Education-Psychology Library.

  • emraguso

    For those who are interested, we have an update on this project — with the current plan set and more — here on Berkeleyside:
    http://www.berkeleyside.com/2014/06/30/berkeley-tall-condo-project-gets-first-city-reviews/