An Alameda County Superior Court judge on Thursday ordered developers to delay demolition of the John M. Doyle House until May 19, giving preservationists a chance to appeal the court’s April 29 decision that rejected their request for a formal environmental review of the project and cleared the way for developers to go ahead with plans to replace the building with a five-story, 35-unit residential and retail complex.
Attorneys for the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association (BAHA) filed a lawsuit last December against the city and developers Panoramic Interests and Touriel Building. The lawsuit argues that the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires an environmental impact report be completed on any project that seeks to do irrevocable damage to a historic resource. The lawsuit claims the Doyle House, located at 2008 University Ave., is a historical landmark because it was owned and built by John Doyle, an early Berkeley pioneer who helped incorporate the city, which was once a part of Oakland township, in 1878.
The court ruled on Tuesday there was no substantial evidence that the structure holds historical significance that would warrant protection under CEQA.
Hours after the court’s ruling, developers obtained a permit from the city to demolish the building, allowing them to begin destruction of the house on Friday. BAHA, the group fighting the development, went into court on Thursday to ask the judge to prevent the demolition until they could file an appeal to the decision. Judge Steve Brick denied the request for a stay; instead, the developer agreed to put off demolition and the judge issued a stipulation in the record making the developers legally bound to their promise.
Attorneys for BAHA will file a request for a stay on Wednesday, and the developers will file their response a week later. If the stay is granted — a decision that will be made on May 16 — BAHA can then file their appeal.
Panoramic Interests’ Patrick Kennedy said he is losing money every day the project is delayed and said if the stay is granted on May 16, allowing the appeal to proceed, he will ask the court to require the plaintiffs to post a bond to cover the costs associated with the delay of the project in the event the preservationists lose the case. “We have contracts signed that would have to be broken, and we already have the financing set up for this,” he said. “We’re talking several hundred thousand dollars.” He criticized the “delaying tactics” and “frivolous lawsuit” of the preservationists, whom he called “NIMBYs masquerading as preservationists” and “career obstructionists.”
BAHA attorney Kathy Shuck said she believes the court’s intention was to allow time for the case to be heard and ruled upon before demolition, but to also make sure that the appeal is heard fairly soon for the benefit of both parties. “The judge made it clear that he was very concerned with getting the case into the court of appeals as quickly as possible,” she said.