101 units at San Pablo, Hearst approved at former Berkeley Midas site

1835 San Pablo Ave. (at Hearst Avenue). Image: Trachtenberg Architects

A six-story, 101-unit project proposed in Berkeley at San Pablo and Hearst avenues won near-unanimous approval Thursday night from the zoning board.

The project, at 1835 San Pablo, was designed by Trachtenberg Architects and is set to include 99 apartments and two live-work units. Berkeleyside reported in January that the Midas shop that used to operate on the block had closed.

One Zoning Adjustments Board commissioner, Patrick Sheahan, abstained from the vote after citing concerns about the privacy of nearby neighbors and a desire to see a toilet on the roof as part of the deck proposed there, but the rest voted in favor. Commissioners lauded developer Cody Fornari for having worked closely with neighbors to address their concerns — which resulted in no apparent opposition during Thursday’s meeting.

Fornari, CEO of Realtex, told commissioners that his application packet included 60 letters of support from neighbors and others in the area. He said Realtex had worked with nearby merchants to create a new business association called the West Berkeley International Marketplace. The group has been meeting monthly, he said, with a focus on improving the experience for pedestrians and stepping up marketing, sidewalk cleaning and graffiti removal.


David Trachtenberg told the board that 1835 San Pablo would put $2.3 million into the city’s Housing Trust Fund, which it uses to build affordable housing projects in the city. The project is set to include seven units for very-low-income households — defined as those who make 50% of the area median income.

1835 San Pablo Ave. (at Hearst Avenue). Image: Trachtenberg Architects

Over the course of the project’s review, developers had increased the side yard to 10 feet to reduce the impact on neighbors, he said, and also agreed not to put a fence there. Among other changes, they created a “kind of garden wall” to improve the aesthetics, lowered the building height by several feet and moved the parking structure, all in response to neighborhood concerns, he said.

The project team put two live-work units on the ground floor rather than planning for traditional retail at 1835 San Pablo, he said. The Berkeley zoning code requires ground-floor commercial in mixed-use projects, and those spaces too often sit vacant, people noted Thursday.

“Because live-work is a relatively new feature among the corridors, we’ve come up with this design solution that makes sense,” Trachtenberg said. In the evening, he explained, tenants in those spaces can pull a screen across the back of their front windows to create a “very interesting jewel box” that “enlivens the street.” He called the approach a “model for how we might deal with live-work in the future.”

The project is set to include room to park 92 bicycles and 49 vehicles.

Those who spoke during the public comment period included Edward Livingston, who said he has lived in the neighborhood for 30 years.

“I grew up on the waterfront and I’ve seen how we’ve been losing a lot of places to live,” he told the board. “This would help. I’ve watched them vitalize the waterfront and other parts of Berkeley. I don’t see why this part of Berkeley shouldn’t be vitalized as well.”

See project documents on the city website.

Emilie Raguso is senior reporter at Berkeleyside. Email: emilie@berkeleyside.com. Phone: 510-459-8325.