Berkeley neighbors say affordability will be key to proposed Adeline Street project

Conceptual plans for 2902 Adeline, which the developer says will likely change as the project goes through the entitlement process. Image: Trachtenberg Architects
Conceptual plans for 2902 Adeline, which the developer says will likely change as the project goes through the entitlement process. Image: Trachtenberg Architects

About 40 people crammed into the community room at the South Branch of the Berkeley Public Library on Wednesday night to hear about a new project proposed at Adeline and Russell streets, and offer feedback to the developer.

The project — which would replace AW Pottery at 2908 Adeline — is in its very early stages, and has not yet been submitted to the city of Berkeley, said developer Cody Fornari of San Francisco-based real estate firm Realtex. Fornari said the South Berkeley property, at 2902 Adeline St., is currently in escrow and has not officially changed hands.

Realtex is also working on a proposal to construct a 7-story building on Telegraph Avenue — where restaurants including Norikonoko and Finfiné have been in operation for more than two decades. The company also won approval last year for a 5-story building at University and McGee avenues, but has not yet broken ground.

Throughout the info session, many in attendance expressed concern about the project — still in the “conceptual phase” —  which is currently set to include 47 residential units, eight live-work units and 18 parking spaces. The building is proposed to reach 6 stories, or 65 feet tall.


Many attendees said they believe in density, particularly near the BART station and along the Adeline Corridor, but questioned whether a 6-story building was the right fit for the neighborhood. The project site is about one block north of the Ashby BART station and kitty corner from Berkeley Bowl.

One local resident described the project as “humongous,” and said it was “way out of character” with the nearby residential neighborhood on Russell, which features many single-family homes. Another person described the project, designed by Trachtenberg Architects, as a “monstrosity.” Firm principal David Trachtenberg was on hand Wednesday to answer questions from the audience and describe the preliminary plans.

“It’s too tall and there’s no parking,” said one local resident, summing up the concerns of many in the room. (Eighteen parking spaces, including one handicapped spot, are currently included in the plans.)

Attendees were skeptical Wednesday about plans for a new 6-story building at Adeline and Russell. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Attendees were skeptical Wednesday about plans for a new 6-story building at Adeline and Russell. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Attendees said they hope to see Realtex look seriously at affordability, and described that as a primary concern of the neighborhood, which is currently involved in a city planning process designed to revitalize the Adeline Corridor. Some said they would like to see the project include at least 50% affordable units, including “deeply affordable” units that will help the neighborhood retain its character.

Neighbors repeatedly expressed concerns about gentrification, and about the area’s remaining black residents “getting pushed out” due to increasing rents and property values.

Read more about affordable housing in past Berkeleyside coverage.

Fornari said, currently, the market-rate project is set to include 10% affordable units on site at 55% of the area median income, as outlined by the city code. He said he heard the concerns of the neighbors “loud and clear,” but said the issue of affordable housing is much bigger than any one project, and should be addressed “on a much larger level.”

“At some point, it becomes difficult to build a building,” he said. “We can’t afford to build it when it’s all affordable. It doesn’t pencil out.”

But he also told attendees he is “happy to look at the numbers” but could not “commit to a level of affordability tonight.”

Trachtenberg described the affordable housing problem as “one of the great issues in the Bay Area right now,” and said cities each take their own approach to solving it. He said Oakland requires no affordable units, and San Francisco requires 30%, but added that each city looks at a developer’s potential return on the investment to determine what projects can sustain.

“Capital is mobile. It’ll go wherever it can make a return on its investment,” he said. Solving the affordability problem won’t be easy, he added: “It’s going to require a realignment of values in this country to get there.”

Architect David Trachtenberg (center) and developer Cody Fornari (in blue) described conceptual plans to neighbors Wednesday night. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Architect David Trachtenberg (center) and developer Cody Fornari (in blue) described conceptual plans to neighbors Wednesday night. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Councilman Max Anderson attended Wednesday night’s meeting, and expressed irritation that he had only learned about the project from a flier. Fornari said he had tried to contact the councilman twice but had been unsuccessful.

Replied Anderson, “You didn’t close the loop.” The councilman, who represents South Berkeley, expressed suspicion about projects that are coming to the city before the Adeline Corridor planning process is complete.

“It’s an effort to preempt the planning process and put in place your version of how South Berkeley should be,” he told Fornari. “If you want to see a massive resistance to this, keep saying you’re sensitive to our ideas but don’t want to make a decision about affordability.”

Anderson said South Berkeley residents have made it clear they don’t want to see their neighborhood “made ripe for developers and speculators,” adding that “people are very, very engaged in this process” focused on the Adeline Corridor. He said, too, he’d like the city to halt all applications along the corridor until the planning process is complete.

Architect Trachtenberg said no one was trying to preempt the city process.

“We’re beginning the conversation,” he said. “We’re not preempting anything.” He asked those in attendance for their “wish list” about what they’d like to see the project ultimately look like and include.

Many neighbors said they would like to see a smaller project with ground-floor retail rather than live-work units, along with more affordable units and open space that was publicly available. Some also expressed concern about how the project might tax the city’s infrastructure.

Trachtenberg cautioned neighbors that including retail would likely result in more car trips in the area, making parking even more difficult than it already is. He also expressed doubt about whether the neighborhood could support a retail shopping destination, but said the project is designed with the possibility of converting some of the live-work units into retail spaces should neighborhood density increase in the future.

Trachtenberg said the live-work units would be appropriate for tenants such as graphic designers, psychotherapists and jewelers, who live on site but also have a “retail presence.” He said, too often in Berkeley, ground-floor retail stays vacant, and that Realtex is looking to avoid that possibility.

In response to the concerns about parking, Trachenberg said there are more than 20 car-share spots within a one-block radius, and that the project’s proximity to BART will make it attractive to residents without vehicles. The project will also require a traffic analysis to study the potential impacts it would have. Building residents would not be eligible for permit parking. (Attendees pointed out that there are some streets in the neighborhood, however, that do not require it, and would likely be more severely impacted by an influx of new residents with vehicles.)

Fornari said also he’s looking into the possibility of a bike-sharing pod on site.

The crowd balked when, in response to a question from one local resident, Fornari said he did not know the projections regarding the rents he expects to be able to charge. He said the opening date is too far in the future — currently estimated to come in September 2018 — to provide reliable figures.

“I honestly don’t know the projections,” he said. “I’m not the one who did the financial analysis on this.”

One woman, a member of the Friends of Adeline group that has been organizing in response to the city’s Adeline Corridor plans, called Fornari’s answer “incredibly disingenuous” and said Fornari should be sure to provide clearer answers the next time he meets with neighbors.

“Give us some respect and come with the numbers, OK?” she told him.

According to Chris Schildt, resident-led group Friends of Adeline includes several hundred members, including “residents of all incomes, non-profits and the business community” who aim to “think collectively about what we want this South Berkeley neighborhood to look like.”

(The group is planning to meet next Aug. 1 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Black Repertory Theater, 3201 Adeline St.)

Schildt said the group would like to work with the developer, help connect Realtex with non-profit developers focused on affordable housing, and help seek grant funding and tax credits to boost the number of affordable units in the project. She said she hopes to see prevailing wages paid to construction workers who are hired locally, as well as the use of local contractors.

“We want to work with you so this project is actually something that is serving the community,” she said.

Another local resident said the way to get the neighborhood to support the project would be to start from scratch: “Tear those up,” he said, of the project plans, which he described as “beautiful drawings and sketches. “Call a meeting. Ask: ‘What do you want in this spot?’ And then listen.”

Trachtenberg and Fornari said that’s what they were trying to do Wednesday night.

Not everyone in attendance appeared amenable to working with the developer.

One woman said the area is already too crowded, to the extent that “people get killed” trying to find a parking spot in the Berkeley Bowl parking lot. She said the project would cast such a large shadow over the neighborhood that children playing outside would have no way to escape it.

“You are making a gated community, in effect, that’s exclusive of the population,” she said. “It’s 20- to 30-somethings: They’re not neighborhood people. They come and stay for a year or two until mommy and daddy pays for them to go somewhere else.… If you want our support, we have to be in the planning process.”

Another local resident, Janet Sluis, pointed out that the project will require lot-line modifications, approval to add two stories and a permit to reduce the parking requirements.

“You’re asking for an awful lot from the neighborhoods,” she said. “We’re going to fight this. We’re not going to roll over and play dead on this one. We want some community benefits that we can see for ourselves, our property values, and our neighbors.”

After the meeting, one local resident created an online survey to collect feedback from the community about what its priorities are for the project. See the survey here.

The project is still listed for sale, for $2.8 million, by Piedmont-based real estate agent Rosie Nysaether.

Fornari said Thursday that his team will be “circling back, trying to think about the program there” based on what he heard Wednesday night.

He said he hopes to submit the project to the city in August, and have the project reviewed by the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board in December or January, with construction beginning in mid-2016, and completion by September 2018.

Friends of Adeline can be contacted via email at FriendsOfAdeline@gmail.com. Questions about the city’s efforts with the Adeline Corridor effort can be directed to project manager Alisa Shen at 510-981-7409 or ashen@cityofberkeley.info. Read more about the Adeline Corridor process in past Berkeleyside coverage. See the city’s project website here

Related:
Telegraph restaurants, shops face uncertain future (07.06.15)
Op-ed: Mending the urban fabric on Adeline Street (06.08.15)
7-story building, no parking, proposed on Telegraph (05.15.15)
Neighbors outline demands for Adeline Corridor grant (05.11.15)
Neighbors to hold Adeline Corridor meeting Saturday (05.08.15)
LeConte residents express concern about Honda’s move to site of Any Mountain store (04.02.15)
Diversity in Berkeley raised as concern at Adeline session as planning process takes off (02.09.15)
Public meeting on Adeline Corridor on Saturday (01.30.15)
$750K grant may bring big changes to South Berkeley (08.19.14)
5-story building approved, again, on University Avenue (07.24.14)
Domino’s wins approval to open in South Berkeley (07.11.14)
Berkeley kicks off Adeline Corridor improvements push (03.27.14)

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