City Council Delays Five-Story Project

Friday April 11, 2003

City Council handed a partial victory to neighborhood opponents of an American Baptist Seminary of the West proposal to demolish two century-old cottages to make way for a five-story building. 

The council, by a 6-2-1 vote, required the seminary to conduct an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) to determine whether the two cottages have historical significance under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The EIR will also analyze impacts on traffic and parking in the residential neighborhood, which is south of the UC Berkeley campus. 

Councilmembers Miriam Hawley and Margaret Breland voted against the EIR and Councilmember Kriss Worthington abstained. 

The council’s ruling will delay the project by approximately six months, according to Department of Planning and Development Director Carol Barrett. The EIR is estimated to cost the Seminary somewhere between $50,000 and $100,000. 

The project, proposed for 2514 Benvenue Ave., would have included 23 new dwelling units, a 22-bed dormitory, classrooms, offices and a 48-car garage.  

The council did approve the use permits for two other seminary projects, both retrofits at 2500 and 2508 Benvenue Ave. The project at 2500 Benvenue Ave. will add 12 dwelling units for a total of 24. The 2508 project would add six dwelling units to an existing 15. Both of the approved projects will result in 18 additional dwelling units for a total of 45. 

Seminary President Rev. Keith Russell said the setback on the five-story building was unfortunate but he was glad the other two projects were approved. 

“After the two years of public process we’ve gone through, we’re delighted to get started on the retrofit projects,” he said. 

The Zoning Adjustments Board narrowly approved a use permit for the five-story building in July, which the Benvenue Neighborhood Association appealed. After the council’s ruling on Tuesday, BNA members congratulated each other outside the council chambers. 

“This is a huge victory for our neighborhood and all neighborhoods across Berkeley,” said BNA member David Baker. 

Baker accused the Planning Department of showing favoritism toward the Seminary throughout the approval process. He said planning staff dismissed the opinion of seven UC professors who believed the two cottages, one built in 1899, the other in 1906, had historical significance. 

Councilmember Gordon Wozniack, who made the motion for the EIR, said there was insufficient evidence that the cottages lack historic value. 

“The EIR should authoritatively address whether those buildings are historical resources for the purposes of CEQA,” he said. 

Councilmember Miriam Hawley voted against requiring the EIR. “I’m opposed to this motion because the city has been involved with this project for over two years,” she said. 

Councilmember Betty Olds said she voted for the EIR because she was concerned about density in the neighborhood, which is just south of the UC Berkeley campus.