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AHA project tabled by City Council Senior housing postponed

By Kurtis Alexander Daily Planet Staff
Thursday May 09, 2002

Developers of a planned housing project, slated to add 40 affordable units to Berkeley’s limited housing stock, are convinced that city officials are giving them the runaround and say seniors are bearing the brunt of the delays. 

“We’ve redesigned our project four times [as a result of city board and committee recommendations] only to have it thrown out the window at the Council level,” said Kevin Zwick, project manager for the nonprofit Affordable Housing Associates. 

AHA’s pending project calls for senior-only rentals at 2517 Sacramento St. that will go for as little as $200 per month, and at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, the project’s consideration was postponed two weeks. 

“With every delay, we see the most at-risk seniors at greater risk of being homeless,” Zwick claimed. He also said the project’s approval is running up against a summer deadline for valuable state funding subsidies. 

Council’s unanimous decision to push the project to their May 21 meeting came after three hours of heated debate over whether the project is designed adequately. 

Several dozen residents of the south Berkeley neighborhood, who have tracked the project through its three years of development, were present Tuesday to make their case that the development, in its current manifestation, is too dense and too tall. 

“Neither myself nor other opponents of this project object to affordable housing,” said neighbor Howie Muir. “The chief problem with the project lies in the overwhelming and inappropriate physical scale of the project.” 

Neighbors claimed that the size of the project wasn’t in keeping with the area and would present a host of parking problems. 

After Tuesday’s meeting, Muir expressed sympathy for the developers and the changes they have been required to make, but said that during the planning process, neighbors have not always been kept abreast of what was going on and deserve to have their concerns addressed. 

“In December, they added more units and another floor [after meetings with the city],” he said. “The city can’t do that without a hearing.” 

The estimated $8 million project currently stands at four floors, with the newly-planned level bumping the total number of units up from 35 to 40. 

Also on hand at Tuesday’s meeting were dozens of members from Berkeley’s senior community, who took the project delays personally. 

“I don’t know why [the neighbors] are complaining about parking now. It’s never been an issue before,” said Fredia Smith, a 50-year Berkeley resident and member of the city’s Commission on Aging. 

“We need more senior housing,” echoed Lanora Young, also on Berkeley’s Commission on Aging. “I can’t tell you when the last time a senior housing project was approved but its been more than three years.” 

Fatigued after 56 speakers worth of mixed opinion, City Council recommended that a mediator work with neighbors and housing advocates over the next two weeks to seek agreement. 

“I think there is an opportunity to reach a compromise between both sides,” said Mayor Shirley Dean. “But we don’t have a lot of time,” she added, noting that the deadline for state housing aid is approaching. 

Developer Zwick applauded the mayor’s diligence, but was not as thrilled about the idea of compromise. 

“We’ve been making neighborhood and design considerations for years,” he said. “Any private-market developer would have walked away be now.” 

Neighbors were also a bit leery. 

“I think there is room for compromise,” said Muir. “But I don’t understand why the developers are hanging fire over five units.” He hopes that the next two weeks will result in the elimination of plans for the five-unit fourth floor.