In reply to Charles Siegel’s commentary on the emerging opposition to Patrick Kennedy’s proposal to build 191 units of housing at Martin Luther King, Jr. Way and University Avenue: I am a resident of the 1800 block of Berkeley Way and I want to defend my neighborhood against the slander of Mr. Siegel, who attempts to brand us as suburban NIMBY whiners because we dare to challenge the “received” wisdom of the person he considers the only successful developer in town.
University Avenue is undergoing a renaissance of sorts—or at least a great deal of construction activity. Paralleling University Avenue between San Pablo and the UC Berkeley campus are Berkeley Way (to the north) and Addison Street (to the south) which receive the spillover traffic, parking, noise and shadowing impacts from University Avenue development. We find ourselves in a continual struggle to maintain a residential neighborhood so close to downtown and the principal traffic artery of the city.
When our neighborhood appealed the zoning appeals board’s approval of a second unit to the City Council in April/May 2001, then Mayor Shirley Dean and other councilmembers described our neighborhood as “fragile” and “deserving of protection,” and the council proceeded to overturn the permit. The University Avenue neighborhoods (both residential and commercial) joined with the city to develop a comprehensive and balanced plan for re-development of the University Avenue corridor. The plan was adopted by City Council and incorporated into the General Plan in 1997. Unfortunately the plan’s implementation required a zoning overlay similar to those that exist for other avenues in Berkeley, and this vital step was never completed.
Absent a University Avenue zoning overlay, our neighborhoods have been working with developers and the city on individual projects within the framework of existing zoning laws and the General Plan. A group from the 1800 block of Berkeley Way met with Mr. Kennedy in October 2002 after his purchase of 1950 Martin Luther King in an attempt to develop a working relationship with his firm so our neighborhood concerns could be incorporated into his plans.
Unfortunately Mr. Kennedy proceeded to design the largest possible structure that the one-acre lot could hold, so now we are struggling with a project with inadequate parking (110 spaces versus the 150 spaces required by zoning), inadequate open space (12,570 square feet versus the 38,600 square feet required by zoning), shadowing of neighborhood houses and gardens well into midday, and inadequate street and side-setbacks required of C1 developments that front and abut residential neighborhoods.
These zoning code provisions protect the quality of life, both for Mr. Kennedy’s tenants and for our neighborhood. But Mr. Kennedy maintains that he needs these variances from the zoning ordinance to provide affordable housing. Mr. Kennedy’s project manager, Mr. Hudson, even went to the extent of lifting up the separate northwest building that intrudes into our neighborhood while informing neighbors that the building existed solely to meet affordable housing goals.
As a neighborhood that optimizes inclusionary housing—from single-family and multi-family homes to condominiums, Section 8 and student housing— and whose population includes people of all ages, races and income levels—we resent being told that the livability of our neighborhood must be sacrificed to meet the goals that we support and represent. We contend what we are really being sacrificed to are Mr. Kennedy’s profit goals.
This process takes an enormous amount of energy on everyone’s part, and often leaves hard feelings all around. Mr. Kennedy has developed not only new mixed-use projects in Berkeley but also an unsavory reputation for continually pushing the envelope of Berkeley development and political process, offering mitigations and promises that evaporate when “they don’t pencil out,” and for bad faith dealing with anyone who stands between him and an additional dollar of profit from his investments.
We challenge Mr. Siegel and Mr. Kennedy to affirm their commitment to Smart Growth as embodied in the University Avenue Plan. Our neighborhood welcomes a sensitively designed project and will support one that conforms to the University Avenue Plan. But we will not be rolled, and we will resist a project that destroys our neighborhood.
Stephen Wollmer is a Berkeley resident.