Logan Park, an eight-story, 204-unit mixed-use housing project slated for downtown Berkeley, is one step closer to breaking ground after the zoning board approved its use permit Thursday night.
The Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) approved the permit with seven yes votes, while two members abstained. The vote came after members reviewed the project, located at 2352 Shattuck Ave. (at Durant), and made suggestions to developers the Austin Group back in May.
Before voting, Commissioner Shoshana O’Keefe praised the developers for being conciliatory during the permitting process.
“This is directed at staff but I want these guys to hear it: I think if projects are having a preview and it’s their first time in front of ZAB, you should direct them to this project and show them how responsive these guys were,” O’Keefe said.
The Austin Group has been before the zoning board a few times in recent years, having built both the eight-story StoneFire on University and 79-unit Varsity Apartments downtown. But Logan Park is a much bigger deal, being what owner William Schrader Jr. described as “the largest project possible allowed under the downtown plan and the density bonus.”
It consists of two buildings that will occupy much of the block on Shattuck Avenue between Channing Way and Durant Avenue, downtown Berkeley’s biggest plot of land. There will be hundreds of units for residents — most likely students — and many retail spaces as well.
“Given the housing crisis, our strategy was to maximize our housing and commercial opportunities,” Schrader told the board Thursday. (Staples, which recently closed, will not be among the new storefronts. Extreme Pizza also has closed but plans to reopen.)
Schrader provided numerous updates on the Logan Park plans to the zoning board, running over his allotted time even after O’Keefe gave him two extra minutes because he “asked nicely.” Included in the updates were more parking spots, solar panels, and electric heaters instead of gas — a suggestion made by Commissioner Igor Tregub.
“I think we’re the first project embracing the idea of reducing gas and increasing electricity,” Schrader said.
The project received lots of support from board members and the audience. Most expressed the need for more rental space in the area, especially as the University of California, Berkeley, expands its student population to over 44,000.
“I know some neighbors have said it’s too tall and it would compromise aesthetics, like some of our coveted views of the city,” 21-year-old Cal student Somya Jain said. “But access to housing isn’t a privilege. It’s a human right. It’s a basic need. And if we have to sacrifice our aesthetic sensibilities to fulfill such a need, then I’m all for it.”
Concerns over the project came from the two members who abstained during the vote, Leah Simon-Weisberg and Janis Ching, alternate commissioners appointed by Cheryl Davila and Kate Harrison. Both had questions regarding the tenant population and whether enough was being done to provide space for lower-income residents. The project includes 14 very-low-income units, which Ching noted was the minimum number required of the developers as part of their density bonus application. Instead of including more, the developers plan to paying $4.5 million to the city’s Housing Trust Fund.
“I’ve spoken with Councilwoman Harrison about this, and the direction I received is that they would really like to see a mix of both — in the building and money,” Schrader said.
Later, Simon-Weisberg asked Schrader if he had housed anyone with a Section 8 voucher. He told her no one tried.
“I have at least five families I can send you,” she said.
Four of the board members present Thursday — Simon-Weisberg, Ching, Alex Sharenko and Deborah Matthews — were substitutes filling in for permanent commissioners. Regular board members who were present included O’Keefe, Tregub, John Selawsky, Teresa Clarke and Dohee Kim.
Now with the board’s approval, the Austin Group can obtain a building permit and start construction. Logan Park’s two buildings will be developed one at a time; Schrader said he expects the first building to be open by 2021.
“We’re just happy to get started,” Schrader said after the vote.