Staff recommend denial of proposed Hillegass remodel

2610 Hillegass Ave., Berkeley, CA. Image: Google maps

City staff say this building is already too dense for the neighborhood, and has recommended denial of a proposed remodel. Image: Google maps

A use permit request from a Hillegass Avenue property manager who hopes to convert eight one-bedroom units into two-bedroom apartments has been recommended for denial by the city’s zoning board which meets tonight, Thursday March 13.

The proposal, at 2610 Hillegass, just south of Parker Street, would not change the building’s size, but would result in the remodel of all of the building’s one-bedroom units into two-bedrooms. The 23-unit building currently includes 10 two-bedroom units and five three-bedroom apartments.

In the report prepared for Thursday night’s Zoning Adjustments Board meeting, staff say that, technically, the project could be approved because the size of the building would not change.

But staff explain that the building already exceeds the density limits for the neighborhood in a variety of ways, from its height and number of units, to the number of stories and its limited setbacks and open space. The area is zoned for two-family residential houses, and is considered “low medium density residential” under the city’s General Plan.

“The proposed project would involve a 19% increase in the number of bedrooms on a property that is already developed substantially over the R-2 limits for building size, coverage, open space and residential density,” according to the staff report.

Staff explain in the report that “it would be potentially inconsistent with the neighborhood and intent of the zoning to further increase the on-site population beyond the existing non-conforming status,” and hence recommend denial of the project’s use permit.

Until last fall, this type of remodel would not have required a use permit, but the Berkeley City Council voted last year to require these permits, along with a public hearing, for the residential addition of any bedroom beyond the fifth as part of an attempt to regulate the proliferation of mini-dorms in the city.

According to a statement submitted in late February, applicant and manager Sam Sorokin of Oakland-based Premium Properties said he believes the remodel would have little impact on neighbors. He notes that, for the most part, three people live in each one-bedroom apartment, with two sharing the bedroom and a third in the living room.

“Because we are dealing with same size apartment, the space we use to create this new bedroom comes from remodeling the kitchen and making the living room smaller. Thus, the total number of people living in these apartments typically stays the same or maybe increases by at most one person,” he wrote.

Sorokin said he doesn’t see increased problems with parking as a result of the project either.

“With respect to parking, we have found that over the past 5 years fewer and fewer students bring their cars to campus. With the cost of tuition, gas, insurance and housing, and their access to a free bus pass, BART and car share programs, it is simply expensive and unnecessary,” he wrote. “We currently have around 15 empty parking spaces in the building, where 5 years ago we had a waiting list. We have been charging $75 per month, but we have very few takers.”

Sorokin wrote that the building already has eight remodeled units and that it has, in fact, cut down on issues with noise because, as a result of a smaller living room, “our residents tend to go elsewhere to party.” A “conscientious resident manager who enforces quiet hours” also helps ensure that neighbors aren’t disturbed.

Ultimately, he wrote, the remodel generally allows the person sleeping in the living room to move into a private space, and also results in the installation of “a much more modern looking kitchen is installed, which everyone likes.” The conversions also tend to require new electrical wiring, better smoke detection systems, seismic improvements and better insulation.

“We know that what we are building is desirable because our residents are renting them faster and for more money than our traditional apartments,” he wrote. “It is important to note, that these layouts may not be what you all may prefer, but for our demographic it is perfect.”

Berkeley council rejects settlement over nuisance house (01.29.14)
Time capsule contents unveiled: historic bible, anti-liquor pamphlets, more (01.22.14)
‘Explosive’ downtown Berkeley housing boom under way (01.14.14)
‘Moorish-style palace’ for Telegraph Ave. is step closer (12.16.13)
New 120-foot building proposed for downtown Berkeley (12.09.13)
Berkeley officials crack down on ‘mini-dorms’ (07.24.13)

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

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  • guest

    Yikes. 3 people / 1 br.

    I wonder how much the owner has done for earthquake safety for that first level parking area.

    He currently has an ad for a 2bd for 3,295.00, 200 over the rent on the rent board site.
    Total monthly rent from rent board site: $49000.

    Assessed value 572,739.00 Secured Tax 21k / year.

    2610 HILLEGASS AVE 101 1983.15 RENTED 2 08/01/12
    2610 HILLEGASS AVE 102 2486.57 RENTED 2 08/01/12
    2610 HILLEGASS AVE 103 1520.42 RENTED 1 08/01/12
    2610 HILLEGASS AVE 104 1550.00 RENTED 1 06/01/13
    2610 HILLEGASS AVE 105 1550.00 RENTED 1 06/01/13
    2610 HILLEGASS AVE 106 1959.98 RENTED 2 08/05/11
    2610 HILLEGASS AVE 107 2791.67 RENTED 3 06/01/12
    2610 HILLEGASS AVE 201 1138.67 RENTED 2
    2610 HILLEGASS AVE 202 2430.58 RENTED 2 06/01/11
    2610 HILLEGASS AVE 203 1745.00 RENTED 1 06/01/13
    2610 HILLEGASS AVE 204 1550.00 RENTED 1 06/01/13
    2610 HILLEGASS AVE 205 1576.35 RENTED 1 06/01/12
    2610 HILLEGASS AVE 206 2150.00 RENTED 2 06/09/13
    2610 HILLEGASS AVE 207 2995.00 RENTED 3 08/01/13
    2610 HILLEGASS AVE 301 2995.00 RENTED 3 06/01/13
    2610 HILLEGASS AVE 302 2650.00 RENTED 2 06/01/13
    2610 HILLEGASS AVE 303 1487.55 RENTED 1 07/15/04
    2610 HILLEGASS AVE 304 2150.00 RENTED 2 08/15/13
    2610 HILLEGASS AVE 305 1759.38 RENTED 1 03/26/01
    2610 HILLEGASS AVE 306 2486.57 RENTED 2 06/01/12
    2610 HILLEGASS AVE 307 2740.82 RENTED 3 06/01/12
    2610 HILLEGASS AVE 401 2683.99 RENTED 2 06/01/11
    2610 HILLEGASS AVE 402 3095.00 RENTED 2 06/01/13

  • guest

    Hilarious to watch Berkeley continue to discourage easy, practical increases in density like this and then cry about the increasing cost in housing.

    Demand isn’t going to go down, folks. Build more units or get used to the spiking prices.

  • Awakeinberkeley

    That greedy landlord. Shame on him for providing housing for people. And, probably at a profit too. What will he do next, try and create jobs by investing in his building and community?

    Speaking of greed, the ED of the rent board, an entity that actually does the exact opposite of what it’s supposed to do, costs us taxpayers $300k a year for creating ZERO value for our community. Let’s end this institution and prove to the world that we are a community filled with intelligent people capable of recognizing a flawed system and fixing it.

  • Chris

    A very sensible decision and good application of the zoning laws.

  • George Beier

    He actually says because you are cooking smaller meals, you need less place to eat it. And that, since TVs are smaller, the living room can be smaller too!

    “This building was built in the 60’s.. there weren’t microwaves to quickly cook food. People tended to cook larger meals. If you are going to have a larger meal, you need more space to eat it. Televisions were huge and expensive. An apartment would have one TV, which would be the focal point of a living room. Now, people are watching TV on their laptops and the TVs are only 4 inches thick. You just don’t need such a large living room anymore. ”

    The South Side Neighborhoods Consortium wrote a letter opposing the project and staff opposed it too (wow). Kudos to you all who worked on the mini-dorm language and ordinance.

    Of course Berkeley needs more housing. But not like this.

  • EBGuy

    I’m somewhat mixed on this one as the end result is less “affordable housing” as a result of the owners attempted densification efforts (YMMV). The “party” aspect is an interesting one — little common space with in the unit means less partying (according to the developer).
    At any rate, I’d rather see NEW square footage built to meet the demand for housing — not intensifying the usage within the existing envelope. The students already do well enough on that front.

  • David D.

    The landlord seriously thinks he will sucker somebody into paying $3295 for a 2-bedroom apartment? Has Berkeley become San Francisco?? Out of control! No sane person would argue that a 2-bedroom apartment rented for $3295 would have less than 4 or 5 people in it, especially considering you can rent a HOUSE for that same per-person price.

  • Guest

    >you can rent a HOUSE for that same per-person price.

    In that part of Berkeley? Nope.

  • David D.

    For $823.75 per person for a shared room or $1647.50 per person for a private room? Most definitely. Here is an example that is $1000 per person for a private room:

  • EBGuy

    And speaking of building more, what about that vacant lot next door? Its owned by the same trust that also owns the adjacent corner house at 2600 Hillegass (assessed value $375k — thank you Prop 13). Build it and they will rent.

  • guest

    Read the article again. This project would not have added any units. It would only have increased returns for the building owner, who is already making windfall profits due to Berkeley’s housing shortage.

    We absolutely need to build a LOT more housing units in Berkeley. This was not about that.

  • guest

    Eminent Domain!

  • awakeinberkeley

    and that is no doubt the fault of the greedy landlords.

    there is no doubt in my mind that rent control helps constrain supply and drive up rents. You know, exactly the opposite of what it is supposed to do.

    pressing rents to the absolute max and adding 20% helps insure that you will never accidentally stumble upon a tenant that wants to dig in and one day have a relatively low rent because rent control has artificially suppressed it.

    rent control also guarantees that savvy landlords do everything in their power to only rent to upwardly mobile people.

    it also keeps people from moving, even when it becomes practical for other reasons, because tenants get stuck in a relatively good deal. This in turn constrains turnover created supply and drives up rents.

    It also contributes to landlords having adversarial relationships with their tenants, and restricting the amount of available cash flow to make building improvements and staying on top of maintenance.

    let’s not forget about the fact that it creates extortionists out of renters that will ALL move out for a price.

    I know of at least 3 people that own homes outside of Berkeley and keep a cheap rent controlled place in town here, because they can afford it due to rent control.

    I could go on and on, but I’d love to hear someone explain to me how rent control is a positive thing for anyone besides the tenants that are fortunate enough to have an artificially low rent.

  • awakeinberkeley

    Let’s see, converting eight 1 bedroom units to eight two bedroom units and doing all of the work required to move walls around, move the kitchen cabinets, rewire, do the triggered seismic upgrades…, let’s just say he was able to do that for $65,000 a unit, so $520,000 total, which is probably low after you add architects, engineers, permit fees, insurance, lost rent during the work… Then the tenant currently sleeping in the living room behind a sheet on a clothesline gets a wall and for that wall the tenant is willing to pay $500 a month more in rent, which creates additional gross annual rents of $48,000 for the 8 units in question – seemingly a 9% return on his investment, but we need to remember that this is going to trigger a building reassessment, so we probably should tease that down to 7.5-8% total return. CALPERS projects a 7.75% return for our sacred public sector workers investments, so is this really windfall profits? Meanwhile those public sector people create almost no value and definitely create no jobs. I would imagine that this landlord’s initiative would create at least 3-4 annualized full time equivalent construction jobs. He should be praised for having any initiative at all, when all we do here is try and stifle anyone from doing anything to better their own condition.

    So, in summary, we got no permit fees, no extra tax revenue, another building didn’t get seismic work done, the landlord was denied the right to earn more which would allow him to take better care of his property, tenants will be denied their privacy, we didn’t get some new construction jobs, and in exchange we let people keep the illusion that we actually restricted the occupancy density of this building.

  • EBGuy

    Move walls around? They slap up non-bearing walls in the existing living room/dining room areas to create the additional bedrooms, each of which would be approximately 130 square feet in size. The new bedroom would essentially replace the existing dining areas Then they replace the sliding glass door and remodel the kitchen. The online permit history isn’t all that great, but it looks like $15k the last time they did it. To the landlords credit permits show a soft story retrofit in 2012.

  • guest

    “those public sector people create almost no value and definitely create no jobs”

    Almost convinced me until you said that. I guess you think professors at private colleges create value but professors at UC don’t.

  • Cassandra

    Actually, the owner claims to have already reconfigured 8 units, yet the building has not been reassessed at all. (If you have the address, you can easily look up the property tax assessments from 2004-2014 on line). The owner has owned the building for a long time; it is assessed at $572,739, yet he is making $593,616 per year from it. Striving to make more from this building strikes me as extreme greed.

  • Awakeinberkeley

    Actually both produce dubious value and neither group delivers anything not presently available for free on the internet. If not for the artificial construct known as college accreditation, there’d be almost no value at all.

  • Awakeinberkeley

    That would be his gross rents. To determine what he makes from the building requires that you subtract expenses and debt service from gross rents. To calculate his return on investment, you need to know how much equity the owner has in the building. Lets say at this poInt in his ownership he is making 25% on his equity. He was probably getting 2-5 in the beginning AND puting up with extraordinary nonsense for landlording in this town. Good for him for being industrious enough to put himself in a position to own a building like this and good for him for thinking about how to make it even more productive.

  • Christopher Riess

    Thumbs down. The owner of this building needs to be watched. They are actively trying to create a slum district.

  • guest

    One way to study the owner’s investment in his property it to look at the permits he has pulled. 7 total listed.

    One wonders what they got in their $14,000 soft story retorfit of a 23 unit apartment building.

    055- -1841-006-00
    $14000 1200001206
    1531 WENDY DR
    Date Issued: 5/07/12

  • guest

    Of all the irrational claims of the far right, one of the most irrational is the claim that only the private sector creates value. You may be the one person in the US who thinks that universities create no value, so consider some other examples.

    Private security guards create value, but city police forces do not create value.

    Privately owned power plants create value, but publicly owned power plants do not create value.

    Privately built toll roads create value, but public roads do not create value.

  • guest

    Good luck with that. They can’t even eminent domain Sarachan’s rat pit on Telegraph.

  • EBGuy

    Uhhh… guest, you need to calm down. The type of info you just posted is not available on the web interface to the unwashed masses. One wonders where you got this information.

  • Awakeinberkeley

    Well the private sector doesn’t have to hold a gun to my head to get my resources to then deploy at a cost greatly exceeding what the private sector can deliver for. Perhaps a better way of saying this is the public sector provides much less relative value for the cost. The only way the public sector can do anything is through coercive immoral means.

  • guest

    You can google it.

  • guest

    Rent control keeps people from being FORCED TO MOVE by rent increases. Think of it as a way of preventing poverty and homelessness among our aging mothers and fathers. It also provides compensation for people who are FORCED to move by their landlord. If you think rent without control would be a good thing, just look at our somewhat bizarre commercial rental market in which rents are high, storefronts are empty, successful, well-loved local businesses live in fear of eviction while having to compete with deep pocket corporations.

  • guest

    Do you have any evidence that Berkeley is the landlord’s community? The address listed on the application is 6522 Telegraph, which would not be his home. Maybe he is an out of town, absentee landlord? He could be spending all of this money far far away from here.

  • guest

    Look at the examples.

    Are you against cities having police forces? You think it should all be done by private security guards?

    Do you think the TVA holds a gun to people’s head and forces them to buy electricity, while PG&E is purely voluntary?

    This is the triumph of extremist ideology over common sense.

  • EBGuy

    You’re right. The google can get at those hard to find PDFs. And for the record, it looks like Apt. 101 at 2610 Hillegas was remodeled for $48.5k in May 2013 . This includes: Added elect, mech & Plumb.dc

  • guest

    triggering a reassessment of how much?

    one cannot tell from that info what amount of that 48.5k was for seismic

  • Awakeinberkeley

    I’ve been the victim of three burglaries in the last year, and can’t remember the last time that I read about the police preventing any crime. Like most sensible people in 2014, I recognize the police as one of the greatest public safety threats in our community. At best they are a revenue collection arm for the city, and at worst they are the blunt knife edge of the state enforcing laws against victimless crimes. The state’s prohibition against drugs for example, creates more crime and violence in our community then anything else. So, yes, I do think we’d be better off without the police, particularly at these prices.
    As for the example of PGE and the TVA I don’t think that is a very good example as PG&E is a de facto public enterprise.

  • Awakeinberkeley

    I understand that is the objective, which is pretty easy to see. My point is that there are tremendous unseen consequences, which are difficult to quantify. Only a fool would ever rent to someone not displaying upwardly mobile characteristics at absolute top of market rents for fear of finding themselves in a position to not maximize their return on investment. To presere their own enlightened self interests, landlords, because of this law, are helping to gentrify our community. Was that the objective of the folks that enacted this law in the beginning?

    Think that sounds harsh, take a look in the mirror. Is every person you hire to work on your home licensed, pulling all the necessary permits, paying all of their taxes, providing workers comp… And if not, are you benefiting from this with lower costs? How about all of your consumer electronics? Clothes? It’s easy to throw stones from behind a cubicle at a landlord, but the reality is if we are willing to put our own actions under the same microscope, we might realize we aren’t on very stable footing to make such accusations.

    As for the commercial space comment, I’m not sure holdIng a gun to the head of landlords to lower their rents is going to do a whole lot, unless you are also willing to hold a gun to the head of would be entrepreneurs to force them to open a business in Berkeley. Think it’s bad now, wait until we pull out the gun again and force these small businesses to pay more in wages. Every time we bring government into the conversation, we bring the gun into it as well, because the state is violence at its core.