Category Archives: Real estate

With Berkeley set to change civic center zoning, US Postal Service ponders lawsuit

The Berkeley City Council is poised to set up new zoning standards in Civic Center. Image: City of Berkeley
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The U.S. Postal Service is pushing back against a city proposal to limit development at its downtown Berkeley post office property, which has been up for sale since 2012.

Tuesday night, the Berkeley City Council is slated to approve that proposal, to establish more restrictive development standards in Berkeley’s civic center on nine parcels, including the post office property at Allston Way and Milvia Street.

An attorney for the post office, R. Clark Morrison, has sent five letters to the city since January in opposition to the plan, decrying it as spot zoning, and saying the city’s decision not to pursue a full environmental review in connection with the plan is at odds with its own code and the law. On Monday, Morrison declined to comment on the matter, but one city staffer familiar with the issue said the USPS is likely to sue the city if council approves the zoning changes.

Postal Service spokesman Augustine Ruiz Jr. said via email Monday that “The Postal Service is evaluating all options with respect to the actions taken by the City of Berkeley, including evaluating the possibility of litigation.” … Continue reading »

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New beer garden, retail planned on Spenger’s block

An artist's rendering of "Fourth & Spenger" at 1901 Fourth St. Image: Abrams/Millikan
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Citing the need to revitalize a business that’s been on the decline for decades, a developer is seeking to make major changes to the West Berkeley block where Spenger’s Fish Grotto has operated since 1933.

Berkeley’s Abrams/Millikan, an architecture and design firm, has big plans for the Fourth Street property, which include the creation of a new beer garden, and the addition of retail shops, office space and parking. The existing restaurant use will remain, but on a smaller scale.

The city’s Design Review Committee took a look at those plans last week, but Abrams/Millkan — working with San Francisco-based Jamestown Properties — held a community meeting in June to provide an overview of the project. According to developers, about 20 people attended, and seven people signed a petition in support of the project, which is called “Fourth & Spenger.” The project was submitted to the city by Elliott Abrams later that month.

Read more about development in Berkeley.

In total, developers plan to add just 10,000 square feet of structure to the property. But some existing buildings on the block are set to be demolished and replaced with new uses, including about 3,500 feet for the beer garden and adjacent patio, nearly 18,000 square feet of new retail shops — on the corners of both Fourth and Fifth streets at Hearst Avenue — and 1,900 square feet for a new fish market next to the restaurant. … Continue reading »

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Op-ed: Why the 2014 Measure R is not ‘true green’

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In 2010, Berkeley voters overwhelmingly ratified a different Measure R, which gave city council the go-ahead to adopt the Downtown Area Plan, a plan created through an open and transparent process with wide community participation. It became law in 2012. The people who opposed the Downtown Area Plan in 2010 are now proposing a new measure, also Measure R, a complex bill that proposes to “fix” a wide range of supposed shortcomings in the Plan. These “fixes” will undo the … Continue reading »

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Judge tweaks downtown ballot summary after lawsuit

Downtown Berkeley, May 2014. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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An Alameda County Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday that several of the words used by the Berkeley City Council in the ballot summary for a proposed downtown initiative to go before voters in November were biased and inaccurate, and has amended its description slightly.

In his 12-page order, Judge Evelio Grillo said he found three words in the 71-word ballot summary describing Measure R to be inaccurate and two words to be “implicit advocacy.”

Read Berkeleyside’s coverage of the downtown initiative.

The matter came before Grillo after Berkeley City Councilman Jesse Arreguín and several others filed a lawsuit in August arguing that the language used by the council in the summary was misleading and inaccurate.

Friday, attorneys for both sides made their cases before Grillo in his courtroom in downtown Oakland.  … Continue reading »

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New 8-story Berkeley building wins easy approval

Stonefire. Image: Johnson Lyman Architects
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Berkeley’s zoning board unanimously approved a new 8-story building on University Avenue, at Milvia Street, on Thursday night.

StoneFire is set to take the place of the Firestone tire shop at 1974 University Ave..

No one spoke against the project in the relatively short hearing before the Zoning Adjustments Board on Thursday. It was the project’s first official review by the board, after a preview session in April. The project also received unanimous support from the city’s Design Review Committee after three sessions with that panel in 2013 and 2014.

Read more about development in Berkeley in past Berkeleyside coverage.

Developer William Schrader Jr., of Alamo-based The Austin Group, told the zoning board the project has been in the works for a couple of years, and that he has met extensively with the city, neighbors and stakeholders to make sure they’re on board with his plans.  … Continue reading »

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New Berkeley Spats owners hope for fall opening

Nathan George at Spats. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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Walking into Shattuck Avenue Spats in downtown Berkeley, it’s hard to believe it’s been out of operation since 2009. Tables and chairs are still in place, there’s liquor behind the bar. The quirky decor — complete with, among many other touches, taxidermy trophies and a Greco-Roman-styled mannequin woman — appears to be free of dust and ready to entertain once again.

It looks like all it might take is the flip of a switch to get the business running and, with a new team of owners having recently bought the building where Spats operated for decades, the bar may be poised to open again this fall.

Nathan George, a local developer who describes his approach as “Berkeley building Berkeley,” is one partner of about a dozen people who bought 1974 Shattuck Ave. with the goal of reopening Spats under its old name. The team is also exploring, longer term, the possibility of housing on the property. … Continue reading »

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2 historic Southside Berkeley homes on the move, literally

Blood House getting ready for its move. Photo: Ted Friedman
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A complex tripod of moving history is about to take place in South Berkeley.

In a unique and probably first-ever-in-Berkeley arrangement, two historical houses, one a city designated landmark, and the other a designated structure of merit, will be hoisted and trucked to a vacant lot a few blocks from their current locations, for a mini historical neighborhood cluster. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley hotel plans halted pending initiative vote

The developer for a downtown Berkeley hotel proposal at Shattuck and Center said his plans are on hold pending November's election. Image: JRDV Urban International
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A proposal for a downtown Berkeley mixed-use high-rise hotel, which had begun working its way through the city’s approval process, is now on hold pending the outcome of November’s vote on an initiative that would significantly change the city’s zoning process and requirements.

A representative from the development team for the Berkeley Place project, where the Bank of America currently operates on Center Street, announced that decision before the Berkeley City Council in July and confirmed it in the middle of the month.

But the city official who represents downtown Berkeley, and who has been a main proponent behind the new initiative, has questioned the claims that the project has truly been halted. Councilman Jesse Arreguín said developers are using the specter of the initiative to scaremonger, and are using it to make a political point. … Continue reading »

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5-story complex proposed on Grocery Outlet site

Grocery Outlet has occupied the building at 2001 Fourth Street since 1992 and is set to close. If the proposed development is approved, the building will be demolished. Photo: Natalie Orenstein
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A mixed-use, five-story complex could be the latest in a sequence of developments to pop up near an industrial area of West Berkeley by the Fourth Street shopping district.

Architect David Trachtenberg, acting on behalf of the Read family, which owns the property 2001 Fourth St., has applied for a use permit for the 71,250-square-foot lot at the current site of discount market Grocery Outlet. If the Zoning Adjustments Board approves the project, the two-story building that houses Grocery Outlet will be demolished to make way for the new development. … Continue reading »

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New paint on Berkeley Oaks Theatre: What does it mean?

The Oaks Theater has been painted recently. Photo: Mary Flaherty
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We’ve heard from some curious readers asking about the new paint job underway in North Berkeley on the façade of the Oaks Theatre, as well as the building it is part of, so Berkeleyside checked in with property owner John Gordon to find out what was happening.

Gordon said the building is being repainted to spruce it up, which could make it more attractive to potential tenants.

The pink and green striping on display earlier this week was simply primer — paint left over from other projects — which will be covered over as the job continues. … Continue reading »

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Development may come to Spenger’s lot in Berkeley

Archeologists from Archeo-Tek, Inc. of Oakland excavated a site at 1900 Fourth St. in the winter of 2014 to look for evidence of the Berkeley shellmound's existence. Photo: Archeo-Tek, Inc.
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After months of poking, prodding, sifting and examining soil, an archeological dig beneath the parking lot across from Spenger’s restaurant on Fourth Street found no evidence it had ever been home to a Native American shellmound.

The findings that the site was not historically important means the owners will seek to develop it.

“Investigators found no historically significant remnants of the West Berkeley Shellmound within the parking lot grounds and have concluded to near certainty that none exist within the property,” says a report on the findings by archeologist Allen Pastron and his team from Archeo-Tec Inc., an Oakland-based firm. The dig team included an Ohlone Indian observer, Andrew Galvan. … Continue reading »

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5-story building approved, again, on University Avenue

A rendering of a new mixed-use project underway at 1698 University Ave. in Berkeley. Image: Syncopated Architecture
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A proposal to construct a five-story mixed-use building in central Berkeley was approved by the zoning board earlier this month after a request to increase the number of units from 25 to 36 while reducing the on-site parking.

The project, at 1698 University Ave. (at McGee Avenue), originally was approved by the city in 2005, and modified in 2008. Since then the property has changed hands. The new owner, San Francisco-based Realtex Apartments, asked the city Zoning Adjustments Board July 10 to increase the number of units and decrease the parking requirements from the earlier proposal.

The new project, designed by Syncopated Architecture — also of San Francisco — would take the place of a vacant automotive repair station. It is set to include approximately 2,000 square feet of commercial space and nearly 25,400 square feet of residential. … Continue reading »

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New affordable housing project headed for Berkeley

This proposed four-story building on San Pablo Avenue, to include 23 units, would be built with money from Berkeley's Housing Trust Fund. Image: HKIT Architects
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A vacant lot in West Berkeley is slated to become an affordable housing complex aimed mostly at people with disabilities after a unanimous vote by the city zoning board last week.

Satellite Affordable Housing Associates (SAHA), a Berkeley-based non-profit housing developer, sought permission from the board July 10 to modify a use permit originally granted to a different property owner in 2007.

SAHA representative Jonathan Astmann told the Zoning Adjustments Board that the project at 2748 San Pablo Ave. (at Grayson Street) would provide 17 rentals for people with disabilities, including three for families with a member who has HIV/AIDS. The project had been approved previously as condominiums.

Read more local real estate and development coverage on Berkeleyside.

The four-story project would have 23 units, unchanged in number from the earlier permit, but requested a reduction in parking spaces — from 27 to 13 — to fit the needs of residents. Astmann said SAHA property residents tend to own fewer vehicles. … Continue reading »

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