To the Editor:
Developer Lynda Hart wrote to the Daily Planet on Sept. 12, claiming that her proposed development was illegally rejected by the city of Berkeley. Let’s set the record straight. Prior to finalizing the current General Plan, the quiet residential north side of the 1100 Block of Hearst Avenue was zoned R-3 (hospitals, dormitories, etc.).
This designation was clearly a zoning error and in conflict with the Berkeley General Plan. After careful consideration, the Planning Commission voted unanimously to modify the designation from R-3 to R-2A and the City Council affirmed their recommendation 7-1-1.
Ignoring the zoning change, Ms. Hart continues to pursue her outsized development, which does not conform to either R-3 or R-2A standards. Further, her development requires the demolition of six existing rent controlled units – all of them affordable to low and moderate income residents – and the eviction of the current tenants. This, and the almost $250,000 in annual rents she expects from the development is hardly merely “enhancing a small rental property” as claimed by Ms. Hart.
The Zoning Adjustments Board, which is authorized to make these judgments by Berkeley code, denied the Hart development, finding that it conflicted with General Plan and Zoning Ordinance policy and was not needed to help meet the city’s affordable housing goals – particularly when it removes more rent-controlled units (six) that it provides in inclusionary housing (four).
Although Ms. Hart states that she is not trying to “skirt the zoning rules,” that’s precisely what she is trying to do by invoking an untested state statute to threaten a lawsuit. She contends that her development should not be held to the findings required by our zoning ordinance because the state has not yet accepted Berkeley’s new Housing Element.
Even with our Housing Element unfinished, our city is unquestionably one of the most effective in the state in providing affordable housing. The fact that state and city planners have not yet finished their work must not give a blank check to developers like Ms. Hart to build whatever they want.
Paul Shain and Elaine Eastman for the Hearst-Curtis-Delaware Neighbors