Page One

Developer Gives First Look At West Berkeley Project Plans

Tuesday July 13, 2004

A San Mateo developer has presented city staff with plans for a 212-unit, five-story West Berkeley housing complex with ground floor commercial space, which would fill the entire block between University Avenue and Addison Street and between Third and Fourth streets. 

Of the two major retailers now on a lot largely devoted to parking—Celia’s, a popular Mexican restaurant at 2040 Fourth St. and Brennan’s at University and Fourth—only Brennan’s is included in the new plans, relocated to Fourth and Addison. 

“We’re working closely with Elizabeth Wade of Brennan’s,” said Dan Deibel, director of development for the Urban Housing Group, which is proposing the project. 

While Brennan’s holds a long-term lease, Celia’s rents from month to month, and their future is uncertain, Deibel said. 

Under the plans filed with the city, Brennan’s would remain in continuous operation, with the first phase of construction to include new facilities into which the restaurant could move before their premises are levelled to build the second phase. 

The project also encompasses the landmarked Berkeley train station, which would be restored with a part of the structure to serve as a station and the rest to house offices and a fitness center for project residents. 

Kava Massih, a noted Berkeley architectural firm, is designing the project for the San Mateo-based Urban Housing Group, headed by President/CEO Daniel E. Murphy. 

Urban Housing, in turn, is a subsidiary of Marcus & Millichap Company, a leading national real estate investment brokerage firm, headquartered in Palo Alto and with offices across the country. Corporate chair George M. Marcus serves as an advisor to the Haas Real Estate Group of UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. 

Deibel said Urban Housing specializes in transit-oriented urban infill development projects.  

“We have four projects currently in the pipeline, two in San Francisco, with one on Mission Bay and one adjacent, another near the South San Francisco BART station and the Berkeley project,” Deibel said. 

He added that his company’s projects “are a little different from the Patrick Kennedy Panoramic Interests project,” with individual units larger than Kennedy’s and “a couple of steps up.” 

Though the project is being designed as a condominium complex, initial plans call for the units to be rented out as market rate apartments in the short term, Deibel said. 

The property is now owned by Steven and Dale Block of Orinda and Overaa Ventures of Richmond, the latter headed by Gerald A. Overaa, who heads the Richmond-based C. Overaa & Co., a major construction firm. 

“We have a purchase contract for the property,” Deibel said, adding that the Overaa firm may have a future role in building the project. 

Architectural renderings submitted with the application are only preliminary, Deibel said. “There’s more work to do on design, and we have a strong desire to work with the Landmarks Preservation Commission and other community groups on design issues.” 

Deibel said he hopes for final city approval by spring or early summer of 2005, with construction to start soon afterwards. 

The first phase of construction would include 140 housing units, Brennan’s, a smaller commercial space and 182 parking spaces in a 125,446-square-foot building. 

The second phase includes 72 residential units, 6750-square-feet of commercial space, and 84 parking spaces in a 64,516 square feet of floor space. 

The final stage, the railroad station, adds an additional 10 parking spaces.  

Plans reserve 20 percent of the housing units for low-income residents. 

The proposal was unveiled to the West Berkeley Project Area Committee (PAC) last Thursday, though the project lies just outside the redevelopment area covered by the committee. 

PAC member John McBride said the committee is concerned about the project’s impact on bus and rail service in the area, and on bicycle traffic.  

“A lot of us felt that the esplanade along the railroad tracks would connect to the bikeway and Aquatic Park,” McBride said. “The bikeway is now planned to go up Addison and down Fourth Street,” which border the project. 

Deibel said he and his staff will devote considerable time to working with community groups to forge a consensus for the project. 

“We’re working closely with Iris Starr and the city on restoring the railroad station to functionality in conjunction the new West Berkeley transportation village,” Deibel added. 

One group with a strong interest in University Avenue projects——hasn’t seen the proposal, said member Kristin Leimkuhler. 

“We need to look at the project before we can comment,” she said.