A UC Berkeley graduate student dormitory at Telegraph Avenue and Haste Street got its latest approval from the zoning board Thursday night, and appears — at long last — to be moving ahead under new ownership.
The nearly unanimous vote allowed for several changes to the project, at 2501 Haste St., which had been approved by the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board more than a year ago. Commissioner Patrick Sheahan, appointed by Councilwoman Cheryl Davila, abstained from the vote.
The project, in the style of a “Moorish palace,” was dreamed up by Ken Sarachan, who owns a number of properties and businesses around Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley’s Southside neighborhood. Sarachan first submitted plans for the project in 2013, calling the building “El Jardin.” But, after numerous court battles with the city and a failed student housing deal with UC Berkeley, he eventually sold the property to Todd Whitlock of Point Richmond-based West Builders. Under the new ownership, the project is now dubbed “Enclave Dormitory.”
Thursday night, project representative David Bogstad described several proposed changes to the zoning board, and asked commissioners to modify last year’s use permit so construction can proceed. The changes included the removal of a sprawling basement where Sarachan had wanted to store records, the addition of 16 beds to the dormitory count — bringing it to 254 beds total — and some changes to the layouts on the first and second floors. The building also went from six to seven stories, but gained only 3 feet, increasing from 72 to 75 feet tall.
Bogstad, of Walnut Creek-based LCA Architects, told the board his firm specializes in working on “complicated buildings and getting them built.” He said the project will serve as dorms for UC Berkeley graduate students, and that the university has already signed onto the deal.
The “skin” of the dormitory was designed with a rather unique construction to create the “Moorish palace” effect. Bogstad told the board his firm has “done a lot of work like this,” to make rock blend in with more traditional building materials. He said he’s confident the end result will be “a special building for our city.”
Some members of the board and members of the public said they weren’t happy that the project won’t pay into the city’s Housing Trust Fund. That’s because dormitories are exempt from those fees, principal planner Greg Powell told the board.
People also said they weren’t pleased to hear that a public restroom — which Sarachan had agreed to include as part of a court settlement with the city — would no longer be part of the project. City staff said the owner will instead “pay a fee to the city to help develop a plan to figure out public restrooms” elsewhere in Berkeley.
As part of the legal settlement, before the project had been classified as a dorm, Sarachan also had agreed to include one affordable housing unit on-site — but the subsequent changes to the project eliminated that requirement, according to the city.
Bogstad said, even though the project won’t include the affordable unit or pay into the Housing Trust Fund — which the city uses to help create affordable housing around town — there will be units reserved for one resident manager and a handful of resident advisors: graduate students on every floor who help support and oversee other students and do not pay rent.
In addition to the student housing, the ground floor of the project has been designed to include five retail spaces. No detail was provided Thursday about what they might feature.
Commissioners spent a lot of time discussing whether the project complied with the city’s definition of a dormitory, even though that wasn’t the task before them Thursday night. Some said they did not recall having approved the project as a dormitory in 2017. City planner Powell assured them that they had.
They also wondered what would happen if UC pulled out of the project and it ceased to be student housing. Powell said those details are clearly laid out in the contract between the city and the property owner, who has already signed a leasing agreement with the university.
“Usually, contracts are not something we spend a lot of time with here [at the zoning board],” Powell told commissioners, as the discussion wore on.
Commissioner Carrie Olson, appointed by Councilwoman Kate Harrison, said she hopes the Design Review Committee will take another look at the layout for the roof deck, and asked the architect to ensure dorm restrooms will accommodate wheelchairs. She said she also hopes care will be taken to ensure that the places where the stone meets other building materials do not leak.
When she cast her vote in favor of the project, Commissioner Denise Pinkston — Councilwoman Lori Droste’s appointee — said she believes the project will be a welcome addition to the neighborhood.
“I’m really glad we’re finally building some student housing right near the campus,” she said.
If constructed, the dorm would be just three blocks south of the UC Berkeley campus. Many have said the neighborhood sorely needs more student housing, as the university has boosted its student population in recent years without building enough places for those students to live.
City planner Lucy Sundelson did not provide an exact timeline for the project going forward. But she told the board “the applicant is gearing up to go quickly,” and has pending building permits in with city.
Property owner Whitlock did not return a Berkeleyside call requesting comment Wednesday afternoon.