Page One

Plumbing, parking foil development project

By John Geluardi Daily Planet staff
Thursday May 24, 2001



The City Council took an unusual action Tuesday by voting immediately after a public hearing to reverse a Zoning Adjustments Board decision to allow development in an “over-cozy neighborhood.” 

After listening to a series of neighbors complain about parking problems, property neglect and privacy concerns, the council closed the public hearing and decided to vote on the issue. Normally the council takes action on public hearing issues at future meetings so councilmembers have time to go over material and ponder testimony. 

“This is one of clearest cases I’ve ever seen,” Mayor Shirley Dean said, and without much discussion, the council voted 8-0 to uphold the neighbors’ appeal and ended the property owner’s plans to build a second home on his property at 1825 Berkeley Way. 

The council took the additional step of adopting a motion by another 8-0 vote to have the Housing Department inspect the existing structure on the same property because of ongoing complaints of faulty plumbing and drainage. 

“It was a long process but eventually we did get heard,” said next-door neighbor Steve Wollmer, the day after the council decision. 

Councilmember Linda Maio did not vote on the issue on the advice of the city attorney because she lives near the subject property. 

The council vote reverses a Nov. 27 decision by the ZAB to allow property owner, Himmat Katari to build a one-story, two-bedroom, 818-square-foot residence at the Berkeley Way site near Grant Street. The project was going to be built behind an existing structure on the same property. The ZAB approved the use permit by a 5-1 vote with two boardmembers abstaining. 

Neighbors complained the additional residential property would negatively impact neighborhood parking because the proposed project did not provide enough on-site spaces. According to a Planning and Development Department report, Katari leases the existing residential building to five university students, though neighbors claim there are as many as seven tenants and each owns a car. Neighbors said if Katari built the new building, he would lease it to as many as four additional students. The project’s design only allowed one space for each building, the minimum allowed by zoning regulations.  

In a letter to the council, Wollmer said: “We in the immediate neighborhood know the rental history of this property and resent that the desire of one non-resident owner for additional income will make our daily lives much more difficult because (his) project meets minimum requirements.” 

Dean said she was greatly disturbed by the neighbors’ accounts of plumbing problems on the property. One letter to council, written by Steve Harrison, described a broken shower drain on the second story that spilled out onto the property’s back stairs and an ongoing hazard created by a sump pump that discharges water 10 feet down a driveway and across a public sidewalk. 

“I have no doubt that this mentality will carry on to any new projects the owner undertakes,” Harrison wrote. “He has shown no interest in his tenants or the neighborhood.” 

Wollmer said he was frustrated by what he called “shoddy” work the Planning and Development staff did on the project. He said the surrounding properties were mis-characterized by a planner who investigated the site. “He described an office space behind the property at 1824 Hearst St. as a garage and said there were no windows on the side of the house next door when there are two picture windows that would have been affected by shadows,” he said, alleging the staff who worked on the project were “incompetent...or prejudiced.” 

Planning and Development Interim Deputy Director Vivian Kahn said if mistakes were made in the project reports, they were likely corrected by letters from the neighbors so that the ZAB was aware of all the correct facts at the time it approved the use permit.  

Dean said she was confounded that the project made it past the ZAB. “I don’t understand staff’s and the ZAB’s strong support of this project ,” she said on Wednesday. “I don’t know what they were thinking on this one.” 

Councilmember Polly Armstrong agreed. “We have to stop shoving more and more people into our established neighborhoods and build more on major thoroughfares where people have access to alternate means of transportation, not in communities like this already over-cozy neighborhood,” she said. 

Katari said he may want to take legal action against the council’s decision and did not want to comment on the outcome until he speaks to his attorney.