It took three years, 12 public hearings, appearances before a number of city boards, including the City Council, and hours of public comment, but Berkeley Honda is finally open for business in a gleaming Art Deco building at 2777 Shattuck Ave. (between Stuart and Ward).
The auto dealership opened its new doors on March 23 and customers are just now learning that the space is open, according to Tim Beinke, who owns and operates the dealership with his father, Steve, his brother Matt, and his uncle.
The place was so new when this reporter visited that she did not spot a speck of oil or grease on the concrete floor of the service area. Beinke said he plans to keep the place that spotlessly clean — an ambition made increasingly easier with Honda’s new line of hybrid and electric cars.
There are many elements of the building, designed by Berkeley architect David Trachtenberg, that make it distinct from other car dealerships with car repair services. Many members of the surrounding LeConte neighborhood strongly opposed Honda moving into the old Any Mountain/Berkeley Bowl space because they said it would reduce parking and add to the congestion of an already-busy area. They were also concerned about an addition Berkeley Honda wanted to add along Stuart Street, which is populated with small homes.
To address those issues, Berkeley Honda abandoned plans to build the addition along Stuart and instead added 4,000 square feet in the rear of the building. Trachtenberg also ensured the remodel kept as many cars as possible inside the building rather than having them be outside while waiting to be repaired. When customers pull up in the morning to drop off their cars, they will drive through the building from Shattuck Avenue, not Stuart Street, and leave their cars inside.
“We needed to have a large queue area so cars wouldn’t back up to the street,” said Beinke.
He expects the service department to repair 30 to 40 cars a day.
To further cut down on the traffic on Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley required Honda to remove access to and from the triangular lot across from the dealership, at 2747 Adeline Street. Drivers used to be able to get in and out from both Shattuck Avenue and Adeline, but now have to use Adeline. This means that customers doing test drives are automatically routed to Adeline and away from the LeConte neighborhood that surrounds the dealership, said Beinke. (The lot, which Honda landscaped, also contains nine parking spaces for the customers of Kirala restaurant.)
Berkeley also required other changes to Honda’s initial application to reduce impacts on the neighborhood. They included adding soundproofing to the structure, eliminating service on Sunday, and requiring employees to park their cars inside the building on Sundays. Honda also must do a traffic study in six months to determine whether their business is impeding flow in the southbound lanes on Shattuck Avenue.
Honda also rents two lots in the neighborhood where they can park cars so as not to impact neighborhood parking, said Beinke.
The move into the refurbished building ends a 10-year saga for Berkeley Honda, one that was complicated by demands by the Honda corporation, California rules, missed opportunities, neighborhood concerns, and Berkeley’s laborious approval processes.
A Berkeley Honda dealership, then owned by Jim Doten, had operated out of 2600 Shattuck Ave. for 40 years. The Beinkes bought the business in 2005, only to find out in 2008 that it had to move because a developer, Ali Kashani, had purchased the property and made plans to build an apartment complex there. (It is now open and is called Parker Place.)
The Beinkes started to look for a new space but found it difficult. California’s New Motor Vehicle Board does not allow any dealership to be within ten miles of another dealership selling the same models, so that constrained Berkeley Honda’s options since both Oakland and El Cerrito had Honda operations. It let one possible site on San Pablo Avenue slip away.
While looking for a permanent home, Honda’s sales department moved across the street to 2627 Shattuck Ave. Its service department relocated for a time to 1500 San Pablo Ave.
When Berkeley Honda couldn’t find a new home, Berkeley officials began to worry. Auto sales are the third largest generator of sales tax for the city, according to information provided by the office of economic development in 2015. The city collected close to $1.2 million in sales tax for new cars in 2014. Berkeley Honda sends about $300,000 a year to the city of Berkeley through sales taxes and business license fees, said Beinke.
In addition, Berkeley Honda employs more than 50 people in union jobs, some earning as much as $100,000 a year, and city officials did not want to lose those.
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.
The Beinkes finally got permission from Honda USA to locate to 2777 Shattuck Ave., which sat in the newly expanded auto zone. While the building, owned by Glen Yasuda, the operator of Berkeley Bowl, was relatively small and was far from the freeway, a preferred location, it was a solution to a difficult problem.
Neighbors, however, opposed the plan and fought it for three years. More than 300 residents signed a petition against the move and formed the “No Honda at Any Mountain Action Group.” Berkeley resident Steve Finacom and 70 other residents filed a petition with the Landmarks Preservation Commission to landmark the building, too. The commission approved the status, but Honda appealed it to the City Council, which overturned the ruling in March 2016.
Attempts to get hold of neighborhood opponents by Berkeleyside by press time had proved unsuccessful.
Beinke is acutely aware of the neighborhood opposition and vows to mend whatever broken relationships remain. In one gesture, Berkeley Honda has been stocking its waiting room each morning with scones from Sconehenge Bakery, located next door.
“We want to be good neighbors,” he said. “We have reached out to the neighbors since we have been here. It’s been a very positive start.”
Beinke is delighted with his new location. The dealership is near Berkeley Bowl and next door to Kirala, a popular Japanese restaurant, so people can go there when waiting for their cars to be repaired. It is also within walking distance of the Ashby BART station. And other car dealerships, including Toyota pf Berkeley, McKevitt Fiat, McKevitt Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram are just a short walk away, which means customers can easily comparison-shop.
Despite the numerous hearings, pushback from the neighbors, and the city’s delays in helping one of its largest taxpayers, the building turned out well, said Trachtenberg.
“I think it’s a benefit,” he said. “It’s a good use of an old building. Everybody doesn’t get what they want all the time. It’s a good compromise.”