It took well over two years of legal proceedings and thrust Berkeley’s Nimby vs Yimby battles into the national spotlight, but three newly constructed homes on one South Berkeley lot made their public debut this week when one of them was listed for sale at $1.3 million.
The housing project at 1301 Haskell St. saw a small single-family dwelling replaced by three high-end modern condos all lined up front to back on the lot.
“They look very nice but I wonder how this will affect the home values in the neighborhood,” said a Haskell Street neighbor Thursday morning when the first of the three homes to go on the market was open for a brokers’ tour. The man, who said he’d lived on the street for 16 years and would rather not give his name, said he was a renter. But, he added, even those who might gain from selling their home as a result of rising values would likely not be able to afford to buy again in Berkeley, given prices across the city.
The current median home price for Berkeley is $1.2 million, according to Zillow. In the 94702 zip code that embraces 1310 Haskell, it is $957,300, although it’s a zip code that takes in many different neighborhoods, stretching as it does from the Oakland border to the south to Gilman Street to the north.
Listing agent Daniel Winkler said he’s hoping the first of the three 3-bedroom, 2.5-bathroom homes, designed by Baran Studio Architecture, will fetch $1.5 million. The homes will be put on the market one by one.
Winkler acknowledged that he expects to hear talk of gentrification. This part of South Berkeley has historically been African American, although that demographic has shrunk considerably citywide in recent decades. Now, only 8% of Berkeley residents are black, down from 20% in 1970. Winkler, however, said he believes the solution to gentrification is more building.
“We need change,” he said. “We need to build more like in Hong Kong or Manhattan and less like in Walnut Creek.”
Citing a recent pioneering ruling in Minneapolis that banned single-family zoning across the city, Winkler said he hoped the same would happen in California.
The developer of the new homes, Cristian Szilagy, said he was happy to see the houses complete and coming to market.
“I’m very excited and think we did a good product,” he said.
For a long time, it looked like the homes on Haskell Street would never be built. Many neighbors fought Szilagy’s plan to demolish the dilapidated bungalow that occupied the lot in order to put up the three new homes.
The Zoning Adjustments Board originally approved Szilagy’s plan in March 2016, but four months later the City Council upheld an an appeal by neighbors who complained about the project’s impacts on parking and traffic. Pro-housing advocacy group San Francisco Bay Area Renters’ Federation (SFBARF) then successfully sued to get the project reconsidered, which brought it back to council in February 2017. But the council voted it down again, prompting another lawsuit. Eventually, in July of that year, a judge ruled in Alameda County Superior Court that Berkeley had to allow the construction of the three new housing units. In September 2017, Berkeley authorized city attorney Farimah Brown to approve the project and to settle the case by paying SFBARF’s $44,000 legal fees.
One of the neighbors who advocated against the new homes, Raquelle, said on Thursday that, although she thought they looked good, she still wished they had not been built.
“They don’t fit in with the neighborhood,” she said. She added that she would rather the developer had built a new home in keeping with the architecture of the street or restored the single-family home that was already there.
Raquelle pointed out that she has seen many similar housing developments going up all over town.
In 2013, three almost identical homes, also designed by Baron Studio, were erected on a vacant lot at 2010 Ninth Street. They each sold for between around $800,000 and $1 million.
Szilagy said now that the Haskell Street homes are finished, he has had positive feedback from the local community, including from some who opposed them.
“A neighbor from two doors away who fought with us all the way to the end — he was one of the leaders of the opposition — stopped me to congratulate me,” he said.
Another neighbor who had protested the project said to Szilagy, “well we are all neighbors now, let’s be friends.” And a third who dropped by when Szilagy was on the construction site said that the whole neighborhood was talking about radiant heating, which the three new homes all have.
On Thursday morning, as real estate agents started arriving to tour the new 1,726-square-foot, open-plan house, a neighbor who lives across the street and didn’t give his name said he had no objection to the new homes, though he expressed surprise at the list price. He said he pays $1,500 monthly rent for a one-bedroom unit and could only afford that thanks to being on Section 8.
“I do wonder who will buy and live in these new homes,” he said.