Real Estate

Zoning board approves ‘The Overture’ on University Ave.

The Overture looks like it's headed for University Avenue near downtown Berkeley. Image: Devi Dutta Architecture
The Overture looks like it’s headed for University Avenue near downtown Berkeley. Image: Devi Dutta Architecture

After a significant facelift, a new mixed-use development is slated to be built on University Avenue, taking the place of two small shops on the south side of the street west of Martin Luther King Jr. Way.

Plans for “The Overture” were approved 8-1 by the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board on Thursday night after a nearly five-hour discussion focused on a variety of technical details related to the project.

Commissioners had largely positive observations about the idea behind developer Nathan George’s new building, noting that it has an array of amenities, particularly in terms of open space that’s set to include a large gym, communal kitchen, “generous lobby,” courtyard, landscaped roof deck and pleasant seating area for residents.

George said the project is aimed at young professionals, and that rents will be in line with those found at downtown’s Berkeley Central, though rates would be adjusted to account for distance from the downtown core.


Mark Rhoades, who presented the project to the zoning board on George’s behalf, said The Overture would be the first development to be built under complex rules set out in the University Avenue Strategic Plan, which was created in 1994 and adopted a decade ago.

The plan was designed to foster development in a range of ways while protecting the character of the avenue and the neighborhoods of those who live near it.

The issues that drove much of the discussion Thursday night included a heated debate about how to calculate the average distance from the back of The Overture to its southern property line, and concerns about how to handle parking on-site.

The 33,733-square-foot project, as submitted, would feature 44 units above up to three ground-floor retail or food service spaces totaling about 4,500 square feet. (George said he’s aiming for neighborhood-serving businesses on the ground floor, rather than more regional attractions that would increase traffic or congestion in the area.)

The 4-story building would be 50 feet tall. The project was designed to qualify for a density bonus, which allows the construction of the fourth floor, by providing four units on site for “very low-income” residents.

A garage for 19 parking spots would be built underground. To address concerns about parking, commissioners required George to set aside two of those parking spaces for some type of car sharing service, to provide vehicles if the service will not, and to contract with that company to manage them. Each unit will receive up to two transit vouchers, either a car sharing membership or its value on a Clipper card; it will be up to residents to decide which kind they want. And at least 63 bike parking spaces will be created in the basement, along with a bike repair area.

The project received GreenTRIP certification from TransForm, a local alternative transportation organization, which lauded The Overture’s approach to transit needs.

Commissioners asked George to scale back balconies on the south side of the building in response to privacy concerns related to neighbors, which he readily agreed to do.

The one dissenting vote regarding the project came from Commissioner Bob Allen, who described the project as “terrific,” but took issue with the staff analysis regarding some technical aspects of the project, and said he did not agree with the board’s stringent approach to some of the project approvals.

One member of the public addressed the zoning board to note potential concerns about neighborhood impacts, parking and noise. A nearby property owner, from Nation’s Giant Hamburgers, said he was concerned that the project might limit his own ability to develop his property at some point in the future. No other community concerns were raised by meeting attendees.

George said Tuesday that, to address the setback issues raised by the board, he will remove three bedrooms on the first three stories of the building. He said he hopes to have his final design review in June, with groundbreaking to come soon after that, if all goes smoothly.

Read more about Berkeley real estate in past Berkeleyside coverage. A project overview appears here. Project documents appear here on the city website.

[Correction: The car sharing requirement approved by the board is not tied to a particular company. The story has been corrected to reflect that.]

Related:
‘Explosive’ downtown Berkeley housing boom under way (01.14.14)
‘The Overture’ apartments planned on University Ave.
 (11.19.13)

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