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Kamlarz Urges Support For Amos Cottage Demolition

Tuesday June 22, 2004

A plea to save a home built the year Berkeley became a city goes before the City Council tonight (Tuesday, June 22), more than two months after the Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) voted to permit demolition of the Amos Cottage at 2211 Fifth St. 

Fans of the Amos Cottage face an uphill struggle, since City Manager Phil Kamlarz has issued a formal recommendation urging the council to uphold the decision not to spare the 126-year old Italianate structure. 

The crucial factor in Kamlarz’ rationale is the failure of preservationists to appeal a March 11 ruling by ZAB that approved the plan by Berkeley architect Timothy Rempel and his partner Elizabeth Miranda to tear down the 917-square-foot cottage and replace it with an 8,897-square-foot, six-unit, three-story structure. 

Because no one appealed the ZAB ruling, Kamlarz wrote in a memorandum to the council, “the ZAB’s decision is now final as to the city; for the same reason any further challenge to the ZAB’s decision is barred. The city therefore must follow this decision, which is binding on it.” 

The day before the ZAB vote, neighbor Stan Huncilman submitted a petition to the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) to designate the Amos Cottage as a structure of merit or landmark. ZAB voted for demolition knowing of Huncilman’s action. 

When the petition went for action to the LPC at their April 12 meeting, one commissioner was absent and the motion stalled on a 4-4 vote. The petition was then put over to the May 10 meeting, where the vote was 5-4 to deny Huncilman’s plea. 

It is an appeal of that decision which faces the council tonight. 

Submitted by Berkeley activist Carol Denney on behalf of the Friends of the 1878 Amos Cottage, the appeal was accompanied by letters from neighbors, historians and preservationists. 

Preservation proponents argue that special consideration should be given the Mary Amos Cottage in part because it was built by a widowed working woman and mother of two, unusual for 1878. 

Rempel and Miranda submitted their own response, including architectural professionals and academics, designers, a banker, and the president of the San Francisco Landmarks Advisory Board. One signatory, developer Gary Feiner has a controversial project a block away up for review by the LPC. 

One signer said recognition of Amos could be accomplished by the installation of a plaque on the site.  

Louis Rossetto, a founder of WIRED magazine, used his declaration of support to denounce “spurious neighborhood ‘leaders’ abusing City regulations in order to stymie needed construction, harass people who are trying to improve the city, and otherwise terrorize law abiding citizens for their own misguided and/or selfish reasons.” He singled out “Denney and her ilk’s stupidity.” 

Denney’s supporters include local historians Richard Schwartz and Susan Cerny, several historical societies from across the state and the neighborhood activists who pushed for creation of the nearby Sisterna Tract Historic District—the site of the property Feiner seeks to develop. 

While a fair number of pro-development submissions ri-diculed the preservationists and Berkeley politics in general, the submissions by those in favor of saving the house focused on the structure and its meaning to the community. 

The pro-preservation petition contends that the ZAB and city staff wrongly exempted the property from compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act. Kamlarz declared in response that they acted properly because the development was exempt as an infill project. 

The petition also contends that city staff failed to inform ZAB before their meeting that an appeal had been filed contesting the LPC denial. Kamlarz, however, said that ZAB had been notified. 

Preservationists said that relocation and preservation options were either distorted or omitted for the developers’ presentations to both ZAB and the LPC—points also denied by the city manager. 

The final outcome of tonight’s meeting may be foreshadowed in the package submitted to councilmembers in advance of tonight’s meeting—which includes a proposed two-page resolution denying Denney’s petition.