A block of Shattuck Avenue in downtown Berkeley could see major changes in the next few years with the construction of an eight-story, 209-unit housing complex between Channing Way and Durant Avenue.
William Schrader Jr., of The Austin Group, has become a familiar name in Berkeley development circles, having already built large projects, such as the eight-story StoneFire on University Avenue and the 79-unit Varsity Apartments at 2024 Durant Ave., downtown in recent years.
His new project, dubbed Logan Park, is slated to be built just east of the Varsity building on Durant, wrapping around the Shattuck Avenue block where Staples, Extreme Pizza, Heat Café, Endless Summer Sweets and Chase bank now operate. Schrader told the zoning board he is working closely with all of those businesses so that the new retail spots fit their needs. Logan Park, if approved, would be located on the largest parcel in downtown Berkeley, he said.
Thursday night’s hearing was a preview session, where Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) members give feedback to an applicant and staff about project changes or information they would like in the future. The optional advisory meeting takes place before a vote, which would be scheduled at a later date. Schrader said he’d like to be back before the zoning board for that vote later this year.
Logan Park will be built in two phases, Schrader told the board. Phase 1 will see construction at the Staples corner on Shattuck and west on Durant. Phase 2 would see the construction of the rest of the Shattuck frontage down to Channing Way. The phased construction approach will allow the businesses to stay open while the project is underway, he said.
Schrader said his primary goals with Logan Park are to “design the largest project possible allowed under the downtown plan and the density bonus,” and to keep the existing tenants.
The project includes two courtyards, a seventh-floor terrace and 86 parking spaces. Building residents would not be eligible for residential parking permits to park in the neighborhood.
The few people who spoke during public comment said they thought the building was too big. Several of them reside in senior living facility Stuart Pratt Manor at 2020 Durant. They recalled the Varsity’s construction as a difficult time in the neighborhood, posing challenges in their efforts to get around the block. A number of the Stuart Pratt residents are blind or disabled, they told the board.
Zoning board members were sympathetic to those concerns and advised Schrader to come back with a robust plan to address safety issues and logistical challenges during construction to make it easier for neighbors.
Members of the board were also largely unified in asking Schrader to reduce parking for the project, noting its proximity to BART and AC Transit. They said he might be able to build some ADA units on the ground floor, add more below-market-rate units or reduce the project height if he could take out some of the parking.
Their comments were at odds with the sentiments of some of the neighbors who spoke, who said there wasn’t enough parking in the project as it is.
Schrader told the board he believed the parking ratio would be appropriate, based in part on his experience determining the parking needs at the nearby Varsity building. That lot — which has 34 parking spots for a 79-unit building — is full, he said. He also noted that financers won’t fund housing projects if they don’t consider parking plans sufficient.
Logan Park, which is a density bonus project, is set to include 15 very-low-income units. Schrader said he will also pay approximately $4.5 million into the city’s Housing Trust Fund to fulfill the city requirement for affordable units.
Commissioners noted that Logan Park is also a Housing Accountability Act project. The state law significantly limits what the city can change as long as a project complies with the zoning code. Schrader said Logan Park is fully code compliant.
“We commissioners here do not have the power to change the state law,” Charles Kahn told the sparse group of attendees who had come to hear about the project. “We’re trying to do our best up here by the community that we all live in and care deeply about. But this is a state mandate.”
Kahn said the city had learned the lesson about the limits of its control the hard way: “Lawsuits come out of that and the lawsuits have been lost in the past by the city of Berkeley.”
Commissioner John Selawsky said he wanted to make a similar point regarding zoning board authority for those in the room and those who might be listening to the meeting from elsewhere.
The zoning board, he said, “has less and less discretion over some of these projects. Our hands, I wouldn’t say are tied. But there’s limited discretion in what ZAB can do on some of these projects. And, quite honestly, sometimes it annoys me.”
Selawsky said he thought an eight-story building was too tall and that it didn’t respect the existing neighborhood.
Commissioner Darrell Owens, who was sitting in for an absent member of the board, took a different position.
“We do need to respect the inhabitants of the existing neighborhood — but I don’t want to give the impression that someone who lives in an eight-story building is any less part of the neighborhood. There’s all types of diversities of housing. And, frankly, you know, 40 years from now, this may be considered a historic structure.”