Parker Place, a 155-unit development at Shattuck and Parker, won City Council approval last night after a long development tussle.
The project had originally been approved by both the Zoning Adjustments Board and the council in 2010, but a procedural error led to a lawsuit. It returned to the council last November, was the subject of a ZAB public hearing in December, and came back to the council for final approval last night.
Despite the approval, the developers expect opponents to pursue a lawsuit to delay or stop the project. Any suit would need to be filed within 30 days of formal notice of the project’s approval.
The project calls for two five-story mixed-use buildings at 2658 and 2660 Shattuck (both sides of Parker on Shattuck) and a three-story residential building at 2037 Parker. In addition to the 155 dwelling units, there is nearly 23,000 sq ft of commercial space on the ground floor.
A group called Parker-Shattuck Neighbors, represented by Gale Garcia and Patti Dacey, objected to the project at the council meeting, requesting it be referred for an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) before a use permit was granted.
“This is a clearly contaminated area,” said Dacey. She asserted that the project failed on a number of issues relating to CEQA — the California Environmental Quality Act. A Honda dealership currently occupies the site.
“Why after three and a half years of going through a rigorous public process are we here?” said Ali Kashani, partner at Citycentric Investments, the developer. “We had unanimous approvals from ZAB. Now [our opponents] are back calling the site a toxic waste dump. They hide their true intentions behind CEQA.”
In public comments, only one neighbor supported the project at the City Council meeting. More typical was Carl Ward, who described himself as a long-time resident of Parker Street. “You’re destroying my quiet enjoyment and replacing it with 500 new people,” Ward said. “Listen to the people who see their neighborhood destroyed by this five-story behemoth.”
The council discussion of the project focused on the desirability of high-density housing in Berkeley and the importance of affordable housing — 20% of the units at Parker Place are classified as affordable. A number of councilmembers said the location on a major transit corridor — Shattuck Avenue — was key to their support. The hope is many residents will use public transit.
“Housing scarcity drives up the costs for everyone,” said Councilmember Linda Maio. “We have a responsibility to try to create more housing to serve demand. It’s totally within the mission and values that have been growing in the city of Berkeley and its policy for many years. I don’t see a compelling reason to turn down a building of homes for people that we need quite a bit.”
“I think this is a model project,” said Councilmember Darryl Moore. “I’m excited about the 31 of 155 units for affordable housing. It provides the kind of affordable housing that we need — we so desperately need — in this city.”
Councilmember Jesse Arreguín said he was not opposed to the project, but thought that an EIR would be prudent.
Several councilmembers did acknowledge opposition from neighbors. But they said that would change.
“I understand the concerns of the neighbors,” said Councilmember Susan Wengraf. “This is a big project and it will be a change. But Shattuck Avenue is a very wide street and five stories is not too tall for Shattuck to handle. The project also steps down to three stories on Parker. There will be more people in the neighborhood, but I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing.”
“I think this is an excellent project,” said Mayor Tom Bates. “Once it’s built, once it’s happened, I don’t think the impact will be as great as people imagine. People are afraid of the change that will occur. I think this will be a positive thing.”
The council approved the use permit eight yeses and one abstention (Arreguín).
Kashani said he remained confident that Parker Place will eventually be completed.
“This project will get built, just as many other projects delayed by unjustified court actions get built,” he said. “I just have to remind myself to be patient.”
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