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ZAB Reviews Controversial Plans In Late-Night Marathon Session: By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Tuesday August 31, 2004

Berkeley’s Zoning Adjustments board took its first look at three controversial projects Thursday night, and gave tentative blessings to one in a grueling seven-hour marathon session. 

Despite pleas from neighbors and a member of the city Landmarks Preservation Commission, board members voted to approve a mitigated negative declaration on plans for a pair of duplexes in a recently landmarked West Berkeley historic district. 

The board also held the first of two public hearings on a planned nine-story Center Street housing, retail and theatrical building and took a first peek at plans for the Ed Roberts Campus (ERC), a center for training and assisting the disabled that would rise at the site of the Ashby BART Station. 

The ERC presentation wasn’t made as part of an action item, the pitch being given by campus staff to brief the board on a project that will appear before them when plans are finalized sometime in the near future. 

The skillfully staged presentation featured a delicate balsa building model, a Power Point presentation and a sizable audience contingent—many in wheelchairs—sporting “I Support ERC” badges. 

ZAB members may have wished they’d skipped the pitch altogether, as the meeting dragged into the wee hours, with Chair Andy Katz running a very loose ship—leaving it to member David Blake to interject with periodic motions to extend the various hearings as each invariably waxed on longer than the minutes allotted. 


Marin Avenue Views 

Members devoted considerable time to playing Solomon, though this time it wasn’t a baby to be divvied up but neighbors’ vistas of the Bay and beyond in the face of a new three-story house planned for 2615 Marin Ave. 

Project neighbors on Keeler Avenue were unhappy that the new home would cut into their views, none more so than Daphne Kalmar, who complained at length that David Richmond’s new home would destroy most of her vista from her own home on Marin. 

The city staff sided with her in their report, but Rena Rickles, attorney for the homebuilder, called “enough” earlier in the hearing, saying her client had participated in arbitration hearings and changed his design three times in the course of the dispute. 

Neighbors had been asked which sight they’d settle on losing: the Golden Gate, San Francisco, or Alcatraz. 

Richmond’s architect had thrice revised the plans, reducing the third story by a fourth to 750 square feet, which Kalmar said had done nothing to save her view. 

With member Blake and Carrie Sprague dissenting, the board voted to overrule the staff recommendations and approve the project, though moving the house back 12 feet on the lot—which Kalmar said wouldn’t help her at all. 


Jeremy’s Expansion in Elmwood 

Attorney Rickles was back up before the board for the next item, a request by clothier Jeremy Kidson to expand his business into a third storefront on College Avenue over the objections of other members of the thoroughfare’s voter-created Commercial District. 

Realtor George Oram Jr., the current occupant without a lease of Kidson’s storefront at 2963 College, wanted the board to give Kidson a use permit conditional on Oram’s being able to find new quarters on the street, a requirement which city staff said the board is explicitly barred from making. 

The board did authorize Oram to relocate to 2931 College, a site he said won’t be vacant until February. 

Kidson wanted Oram’s old space for an additional 700 square feet of retail sales floor and another 500 square feet of break room and office space, a move which would normally be precluded under district rules. 

“I am very much against the quota system,” Kidson said, describing it as a “government-sponsored cartel to use the quota system to control the expansion of businesses. 

“We do a very good business, and I think we bring a lot of business to the neighborhood,” Kidson said. 

Rickles then called a series of neighborhood women customers to testify to the wonderfulness of shopping at Jeremy’s and to attest to the crowded shopping conditions, which they were assured would ease once Kidson won permission to expand. 

Expansion opponent and Elmwood Business Improvement District member Connie Imodrie, owner of Your Basic Bird, pointed out that it was only because of an error by city staff that Kidson was allowed to violate the quota system and expand his store into the old bank building at the southeast corner of College and Ashby—a fact confirmed by City Planner Mark Rhoades. 

A city staff member erroneously issued a counter permit authorizing the expansion, Rhoades said, and he only caught the error when Kidson was about to hold his grand opening. Under the terms of the commercial district ordinance, an expansion into a space previously occupied by another business requires a hearing before ZAB. 

The board received protests of the newest expansion signed by 21 area merchants asking ZAB to delay acting until more members of the business community could voice their objections. 

Gregory Harper, attorney for George Oram, contended that the city staff issued a recommendation favoring Kidson’s move based on his client’s ability to move into new quarters. 

Rickles pointed out that Oram’s lease had expired on July 31. “He came to us and said he wouldn’t object (to the expansion) if we paid him $50,000 and let him stay another six months. 

Dean Metzger, the newest ZAB member, objected to the move, saying “I was involved in writing the quota system for the Elmwood and it is very dear to me. . .If we let Jeremy’s do this, we will wind up having a super store in our neighborhood.” 

Blake also objected, but to no avail. When the votes were tallied, they were the only dissenters. 


Sisterna Tract district 

The greatest organized opposition came to protest the proposed adoption of a mitigated negative declaration giving a preliminary go-ahead to the two duplex conversion at 2104 and 2108 Sixth St. in the Sisterna Tract historic district. 

But by the time ZAB members got around to the public hearing, the witching hour had come and most of the opponents had headed home. 

One of those who stayed was Lesley Emmington Jones, a member of the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) who appeared on behalf of that panel. 

“We are unanimously concerned and forwarded our recommendations to you, but I don’t see them shared in the staff report,” she said. “We were unanimous in reporting that in the Environmental Impact Statement under esthetics impacts. . .it should state that there will be substantial damage to the historical buildings within the context of the district” if plans are adopted as submitted. 

While Emmington Jones praised developer Mark Feiner for his efforts to adapt his plans to LPC recommendations, she also faulted city staff for failing to produce the statement in a timely manner, a fault planner Rhoades acknowledged, blaming the timing difficulties on the lack of sufficient staff. 

Rhoades said the LPC would have the final say on designs. 

The board finally adopted the plan, with only Dean Metzger and Carrie Sprague voting no. 

“See you in court!” declared several disappointed neighbors as they filed out of the meeting.