More than 50 residents of the LeConte neighborhood turned up for a meeting Wednesday night to hear about Berkeley Honda’s plans to move into the historic Shattuck Avenue building now housing Any Mountain.
While numerous people at the raucous – and sometimes unruly – meeting said they support the family-owned Berkeley Honda, they said it should not move to its proposed location at 2777 Shattuck Ave. between Stuart and Ward streets.
Neighbors expressed concern about too many cars, congestion, the safety of children walking to Willard Middle School and Le Conte Elementary School, and how the presence of a service garage could bring down property values.
While those at the meeting were eager to tell Tim Beinke, the dealer/operator of Berkeley Honda, their opinions of the proposed showroom, they were less eager to hear the specifics of Honda’s plans. Statements made by Beinke and the architects presenting the project were met frequently with boos. One woman in the back of the room repeatedly shouted out derogatory comments and dissed statements made by the Honda representatives. She grew so offensive that many of the LeConte neighbors kept telling her to be quiet, to no avail.
Gary Lapow, a musician who lives on Stuart Street, was one of about a dozen people who showed up early to the meeting to hold up a red and white sign that said “No Honda Here at Any Mountain.”
“We feel this isn’t an appropriate place for a car dealership and service center because of safety issues,” said Lapow. “We have children every morning walking up Stuart Street to Le Conte Elementary and Willard Middle School at 7:30 in the morning – the same time cars will be coming and turning into the proposed entrance.”
Steve Beinke, who purchased Berkeley Honda about 10 years ago with his son, Tim, said he thought the neighbors had a lot of misinformation about the Berkeley Honda project.
A Honda dealership has operated at 2600 Shattuck Ave. for about 40 years; the Beinkes acquired it about 10 years ago. Berkeley Honda was forced to move in November when work began to covert the property into a housing complex. Its sales department is now located across the street at 2627 Shattuck Ave, on property owned by Reza Valiyee. Its service department is now located at 1500 San Pablo Ave.
Berkeley Honda has been looking for a new home since 2008 but has had trouble finding one in Berkeley. It couldn’t relocate too close to either Oakland Honda or El Cerrito Honda because California’s New Motor Vehicle Board prohibits dealers from locating within 10 miles of another dealer of the same make. Zoning restrictions have made it hard to find other locations, said Beinke.
Berkeley Honda thought it had found a location at 1500 San Pablo Ave., in the location of the former McNevin Cadillac dealership. The Beinkes had signed a letter of intent with the developer Hudson McDonald, said Ali Kashani, a developer who has been retained by the Beinkes to facilitate the entitlement process. (And, ironically, the developer who decided to put a housing complex on Berkeley Honda’s long-time home). But Hudson Donald never presented a lease and ended up selling its development rights to Shorenstein Properties, a real-estate company, said Beinke. Shorenstein now plans to build a 170-unit, mixed-use housing development on that site.
The Beinkes finally got permission from Honda USA to locate at 2777 Shattuck, even though it is relatively small and is far from the freeway, a preferred location.
The city of Berkeley has been eager to retain auto dealerships because auto sales are the third largest generator of sales tax for the city, according to information provided by the office of economic development. New car sales account for 7.8% of the city’s annual sales tax revenue, behind restaurants, which provide 21.3% of the sales tax revenue, and general merchandise, which accounts for 10.3%. The city collected close to $1.2 million in sales tax for new cars in the last four quarters.
Berkeley Honda sends about $300,000 a year to the city of Berkeley through sales taxes and business license fees, said Beinke.
In 2013, the Berkeley City Council amended the South Shattuck Corridor plan to permit car dealerships to relocate. (Previously they had been banned from doing this, although existing car dealerships had been grandfathered in.) The new “Dealership Overlay Area,” was done with Berkeley Honda in mind, according to a staff report from City Manager Christine Daniel. The overlay area includes all lots with a frontage on Adeline Street, Shattuck Avenue, or Ashby Avenue between Dwight Way and the south side of Alcatraz Street. It does not include lots near the Ashby BART Station block and lots with frontage exclusively on Shattuck Avenue south of Ashby Avenue.
Last month, the city council was scheduled to voted on waiving building permit fees for Berkeley Honda, but the item was pulled from the agenda. However, the council previously waived the fees when it thought Honda was moving to the 1500 San Pablo Ave. site.
At Wednesday’s meeting, LeConte neighbors said they did not know anything about the Dealership Overlay Area. According to the city manager’s report, the community did not seem engaged in the process to adopt the new ordinance, which involved a number of public meetings. Only two local residents showed up for a March 2012 community meeting on the Dealership Overlay Area and none showed up for the May 2013 public hearing on the matter before the Planning Commission, according to the staff report.
Berkeley Honda does not plan to change the exterior of the new location at 2777 Shattuck Ave. as the building has been listed on the state’s historic resource inventory. The building was originally a bowling alley, then became Berkeley Bowl, and then became an Any Mountain outlet in 1999. Glenn Yasuda, the proprietor of Berkeley Bowl, owns the property, which includes one 16,720 square foot space (now used by Any Mountain) and one 2,400 square foot space (now the home of Sconehenge Café.)
Neither Sconehenge nor Kirala, the Japanese restaurant next door, will be affected, although they will be asked to move their current parking spaces to a lot on Ward Street, said Kashani.
Berkeley Honda will build a 2,900-square-foot addition on a parking lot on the south side of the building along Stuart Street to house the service operations. Since the building is a historic resource, David Trachtenberg, the architect, will work with a historical consultant to make sure the project adheres to standards set by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, according to Mauricio de la Peña, an architect in Trachtenberg’s office.
But it is this addition – and the cars coming in and out – that most concerns the neighbors. More than 300 LeConte neighborhood residents have signed a petition protesting Berkeley Honda’s plans and have formed the No Honda at Any Mountain Action Group. They are afraid there will be too much noise and having so many cars will make an already difficult intersection – Stuart and Shattuck – truly horrible.
Kashani said the city wants to do a trip generation analysis to assess the impact of Berkeley Honda on the neighborhood. Tim Beinke also pointed out that the 40 to 60 cars seeking service each day will not arrive all at once in the morning, but will have staggered arrivals and departures throughout the day. A city analysis also shows that there will be half as many cars going to Berkeley Honda each day than go to Any Mountain, he said.
Neighbors also said that Shattuck is only two lanes right there, so there might be gridlock. That contrasts with Berkeley Honda’s current and old locations on Shattuck Avenue, where the street is four lanes wide, they pointed out.
Tim Beinke said that description is incorrect. While Shattuck Avenue narrows to two lanes in front of the proposed dealership, there are actually six lanes if you count in the four lanes of adjacent Adeline Street.
Neighbors were also worried about where all the cars brought in to be serviced would be stored. Some said they suspected the Beinkes would park them on Ward and Stuart streets. The Beinkes said that would be illegal and they have never parked service cars on city streets. Tim Beinke pointed out that Berkeley Honda rents two parking lots nearby and would continue to rent those spaces.
Tim Beinke also tried to reassure neighbors that Berkeley Honda would not load commercial business onto Stuart Street. It is renting the small triangular, 31-space parking lot on Adeline across from Any Mountain. All deliveries will be made to that parking lot and parts will be delivered by hand truck into the service department.
But the neighbors at the meeting kept repeating that Berkeley Honda had chosen the wrong place to relocate.
“We are all in favor of Berkeley Honda staying in Berkeley; we just don’t want them to ruin our neighborhood,” said one neighbor.
Berkeley Honda is just starting the entitlement process with the city of Berkeley. It has not yet completed its application to Berkeley.
No hearings have yet been scheduled on the project, but in the next few months the Zoning Adjustments Board meeting and the Landmarks Preservation Commission will conduct meetings on the proposal.
“All of you will have ample opportunity to engage in public dialogue and have your voices heard,” said Trachtenberg.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to say that a Honda dealership occupied 2600 Shattuck for 40 years and that the Beinke’s bought it about 10 years ago. Previously it said Berkeley Honda had been there 40 years.