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University Avenue 71-unit housing project approved

By John Geluardi Daily Planet staff
Monday June 04, 2001

The Zoning Adjustments Board approved a use permit for a proposed development of 71 residential units and 7,200 square feet of commercial space at 1392 University Ave. at Acton Street late last week. 

About 30 residents, most opposing the project, crammed into a second floor conference room at 2120 Milvia St. last Thursday to attend a public hearing on the project, according to neighborhood activist Howie Muir. 

The City Council gave the land, which was owned by the state, to the developers, for-profit Panoramic Interests and the nonprofit Jubilee Restoration at a May 25, 1999 council meeting in exchange for a minimum of 20 affordable housing units.  

The council chose Panoramic Interests and Jubilee Restoration over the nonprofit Affordable Housing Associates despite the fact that Panoramic was proposing a much larger development than what zoning policy allows.  

The AHA proposal not only fit within zoning guidelines but was recommended by the Housing Advisory Commission. 

The council gave the project to Panoramic and Jubilee by a vote of 6-3 with Vice Mayor Maudelle Shirek and Councilmembers Dona Spring and Linda Maio voting no. 

Councilmember Dona Spring said the council chose Panoramic and Jubilee because the president, Patrick Kennedy, has an undue amount of influence over the majority of the councilmembers. 

“Patrick Kennedy is an expert at getting councilmembers indebted to him,” she said. “He finds their needs and desires and does everything he can to capitalize on them.” 

Kennedy is the developer of the downtown Gaia Building and will soon start development of a controversial four-story project at 2700 San Pablo Ave. 

Muir said after the ZAB members listened to public comment, most of which decried the size of the development, board member David Blake said the ZAB could do little to alter the size of the development because of a resolution the City Council adopted at the same time it awarded the property to Kennedy. 

According to that resolution, the project will include 15, 2-bedroom units for tenants who earn 50 percent of the area median, which for a family of three is $30,400 a year. The other five units will be set aside for earning 80 percent of the area income, which for a family of three is $48,640. 

“We gave the developers that land and I just hope were getting our money’s worth of affordable housing out of the deal,” Spring said. 

The property was appraised at $1.5 million in 1999. 

Spring said she would like to see Kennedy do the right thing and add at least another 15 units of affordable housing to the project. 

“If he rents those units out to Section 8 tenants, he’ll be getting market, or close to market, rents,” She said. “And there are so many Section 8 families in Berkeley who can’t use their vouchers because there are so few available units.”