As the city’s need for more housing is pitted against a burgeoning slow-growth movement, City Council will consider appeals against three proposed developments tonight that could result in 179 housing units, 31 of which would be designated for low-income residents.
The basis for the appeals includes complaints about too little parking, a plan that is too dense with development and a lack of conformity to the neighborhood aesthetics regarding height and design. The Zoning Adjustments Board had previously approved use permits for the projects, all of which were proposed by Berkeley-based Panoramic Interests.
The projects include a 44-unit project with 3,000 square feet of commercial space at 2119 University Ave. near Shattuck Avenue; a 100-unit project with 8,500 square feet of commercial space at 2471 Shattuck Ave. near Haste Street and a 35-unit project with 5,200 square feet of commercial space at 2700 San Pablo Ave. near Derby Street.
Berkeley resident Howie Muir, whose name appears on all three of the appeals, is leading the opposition against the developments. Muir, who lives near the 2700 San Pablo Ave. proposal, is also co-author of the height initiative, a slow growth initiative slated for the November ballot.
At tonight’s meeting, the council has three options. It can follow the recommendation of the ZAB and dismiss the appeals and move the project forward; send the projects back to the ZAB for further consideration; or void the use permits and set additional public hearings regarding each project.
According to Current Planning Manager Mark Rhoades, city staff has painstakingly reviewed the projects and has recommended that council dismiss all three appeals.
“We’ve reviewed the project and we didn’t find new or extraordinary circumstances that would require further review of these projects,” he said.
Panoramic Interests Project Manager Chris Hudson said if the council sent any of the projects back to the ZAB or held more public hearings the developments would be unnecessarily delayed, and that building more housing is a high priority.
“Staff has been reviewing these projects for a long, long time and I think they are correct in their response and I hope the council supports them,” he said. “There just isn’t a lot of factual background to these appeals.”
Muir could not be reached Monday to comment on the appeals.
Mayor Shirley Dean said she couldn’t comment on the specifics of the appeals but is not happy about delaying more housing.
“Berkeley is in sore need of more housing and especially affordable housing,” she said. “I’m concerned because Mr. Muir doesn’t even live close to two of these projects.”
But Councilmember Dona Spring said that while more housing is needed in Berkeley, there must be more assurances that affordable housing will be built for those who really need it – people who earn 60 percent or less of area median income, which is $36,000 for a family of three in Berkeley.
In keeping with the state’s criteria for affordable housing, the 31 units set aside for low-income units are evenly split between those who earn 50 percent of the median income and those who earn 80 percent of the median income, which is $48,640 for a family of three.
“I support development in the downtown area but I would like to see height bonuses given to developers who will provide more housing for people who earn 60 percent of the AMI [Area Median Income],” Spring said. “The rents are so high that many people who live in affordable housing can’t afford food or medicine after paying rent.”
Perhaps the most controversial of the three projects being considered is the 35 units proposed at 2700 San Pablo Ave. During the last two years, the project has been kicked around the Department of Planning and Development, the ZAB and the City Council.
Originally, Panoramic Interests and its partner in the project, Jubilee Restoration, a nonprofit developer, proposed 48 units and 5,392 square feet of commercial space. The size of the proposal generated intense opposition from the surrounding neighbors who lead the ZAB to reject the developers’ application.
Panoramic Interests and Jubilee Restoration appealed to the City Council, which was considering the issue when the developers abruptly withdrew the application. Several months later, the developers resubmitted an application for the project, but scaled it down to 35 units and 5,266 square feet of commercial space. Much less neighborhood opposition ensued and the ZAB unanimously approved the use permit in February.
“We first bought this property four years ago,” said Hudson. “It’s really a shame it takes this long to build housing in Berkeley and it’s why more housing isn’t built here.”