The transformation of the site of an abandoned and blighted gas station into a café and produce store with several stories of housing above, would not only provide places for people to live, but spark development along a neglected thoroughfare, say developers proposing the project at 2700 San Pablo Ave.
The area “needs more people on the street hanging out,” said Barbara Windsor of Jacobson, Silverstein and Winslow Architects, one of the people designing the project for Patrick Kennedy of Panoramic Interests and Gordon Choyce of Jubilee Restoration.
“This area is currently derelict,” Windsor added, in her presentation of the project to the Zoning Adjustments Board at its meeting Thursday evening.
But more than 50 people who live near the project came to the ZAB armed with signatures of 350 more concerned neighbors, to air their opposition to the project.
Before the project can move forward, the ZAB must issue a use permit. The review and public hearing were continued to July 13.
“We’re not against development or revitalization of San Pablo Avenue,” said Danielle Spellman, who lives on Ward Street, near the project site. “And we resent being referred to as a derelict community.”
The nearby residents, who have formed Neighbors For Responsible Development, said the proposal is out of scale with current development along San Pablo Avenue.
“We object to its size, scale and design,” Spellman said. A lower building would satisfy the community.
“Knock off one floor,” she proposed.
Developers and architects at the Thursday meeting described the project as a four-story building. They said it was being redesigned, however, to comply with concerns expressed by the neighbors and by the city’s Design Review Board.
In an interview Friday, Patrick Kennedy said the project continues to be a 48-unit apartment project. He described the design changes.
There would be a fifth-story penthouse above the fourth floor, “and it will taper down to three floors,” Kennedy said. The height will not go above 50 feet, the maximum allowed in the area. Open space will be added in an area adjacent to the residential neighbor.
“We’re addressing 95 percent of what the neighbors object to,” Kennedy said, arguing that opponents were “citizen vigilantes” whose real motive is fighting the low-income units proposed for the building.
Project opponent Helga Alessio argued that the neighbors have no problem with the low-income tenants, but the size and bulk of the proposal concern them.
The number of low-income units in the project is one of the outstanding questions. It may depend on financing. In all new housing construction, the city requires that either 10 percent of the units are affordable to very low income people, earning 60 percent of the median income - $32,000 for a two-person family; or that 20 percent be affordable to people earning 80 percent of median income - about $43,000 for a family of two.
Choyce said that in the current project iteration, 10 percent, or about five units, would be affordable to people who earn 60 percent of the median.
But if the developers get city funds, they may be obligated to provide more units to low-income people.
Kennedy said he plans to ask for $600,000 in loans. He has told city staff that he also intends to ask for $100,000 in fee waivers.
Kennedy said he thinks the city loan will come from money that the Bayer Corp. paid into a fund for housing development, as part of its agreement to develop in Berkeley.
However, Steve Barton, the city’s housing director, said that Kennedy would not be eligible for those funds, available strictly to nonprofit developers. Kennedy is a for-profit developer. He and other for-profit partners, whom he declined to name, have formed a limited liability corporation and will own 73 percent of the project. Nonprofit developer Choyce will own 27 percent.
Barton said that Kennedy could apply to the city’s Housing Trust Fund for the loan.
“First they need to come in and demonstrate that they need the funds,” he said.
If the city grants them funds from the Housing Trust Fund, and the council does not make exceptions to its rule, 20 percent of the units would have to be affordable to people earning 30 percent of the area median, or about $16,200 for a family of two, and 40 percent would have to be available to a two-person family earning 60 percent of the area median.
The remaining 40 percent could be rented at market rates.
Although Kennedy had few supporters at Thursday night’s meeting, he does have the city’s economic development head in his court.
In a June 1 letter to the ZAB, Economic Development Director Bill Lambert wrote: “This project is the kind of pioneering development that is essential to stimulate additional positive developments in the area, thereby greatly assisting the revitalization effort.”
The Design Review Committee will review the project at its meeting tonight, at 7:30 p.m. at the North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst Ave.
The ZAB will continue its review and public hearing on July 13 at 7 p.m. in the Council Chambers at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way.