ZAB Approves University Avenue Project, Bids Adieu as Capitelli Heads to Council By RICHARD BRENNEMAN
Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board members greenlighted a five-story University Avenue condominium project Monday, saying they were delighted that the developer would be offering units to low-income residents.
Developer Alex Varum said 20 percent of the units in his 1122 University Ave. project will be reserved for buyers making 80 percent or less of the Oakland Metropolitan Area median income (AMI).
Under state law, he could have set the cutoff point at 120 percent, allowing him to sell the so-called inclusionary units at higher prices.
“I’m really excited you’re going with 80 percent AMI,” said ZAB Chair Andy Katz.
“I appreciate that too,” said member Jesse Anthony, who called the project an exciting addition to the University Avenue/San Pablo Avenue neighborhood. With projects such as these, he said, “one of these days Berkeley will have more people, we hope.”
Outgoing ZAB member and City Councilmember-elect Laurie Capitelli praised the project, but said he wanted to make certain that the inclusionary units were spread throughout the unit and not concentrated in one area.
“They’ll be in all floors in all (architectural) elevations,” Varum said.
The project replaces a vacant lot, a bar and a liquor store. It will include two buildings. One is a five-story structure facing University with 48 housing units, two ground floor live/work units and two retail spaces. The other is a three-story structure directly behind it, which features an additional 15 units.
The project includes 74 underground parking spaces, two of them reserved for commercial tenants. Additional parking for customers of the commercial tenants could be provided by parking slot subleases from tenants who won’t be using them during business hours.
The building will also feature a garage entry door by Berkeley artist Amy Blackwell, who designed the whimsical gate at developer Patrick Kennedy’s Artech Building.
ZAB member Deborah Matthew said she was concerned that the building “looks so much like a hotel” and asked about window treatments and exterior finish colors.
Varum said the building will be finished in two shades of beige, with slate-like tile along the street-level frontage. Window frames, he said, will be high-quality aluminum.
When Metzger questioned the need for ground-level commercial use, Senior Planner Deborah Sanderson said her department discourages ground-level residential and encourages commercial uses because of the heavy traffic in the area.
No speakers opposed the project.
“I am so happy to see something proposed for the neighborhood like this,” Joe Walton, who has lived nearby on Bonar Street for the last two decades, told the board. “I’m also in favor of the five-story building, because a nice five-story is far more attractive than these one-story ticky-tacky boxes with parking lots out front. There’s no downside that I can see.”
Varum said he would be working with members of PlanBerkeley.Org, a group focused on development issues in the University Avenue corridor, to find appropriate tenants for the ground floor retail spaces.
Members of the group had criticized the project in the past and Varum said he had taken many of their criticisms into account as the project evolved through several design iterations.
Getting to the final approvals on demolition permits for the existing structures at the site and the use permit approved Monday wasn’t an easy process, Varum acknowledged.
“The design review process took longer than expected,” Varum said, “and we made numerous concessions.” He estimated his costs so far at $300,000.
After the meeting, Metzger expressed his concerns about the numbers of large projects recently approved by his fellow board members. “I can’t help but think that the projects we’re approving may become the slums of tomorrow,” he said.
As the meeting ended, fellow board member and frequent opponent Carrie Sprague thanked Capitelli—“a wonderful and a very kind person”—for his service on the panel. Her remarks were greeted with applause and more praise for the incoming City Councilmember.
“I want to thank all of you,” Capitelli responded. “In the last four years I’ve disagreed with all of you at least once, and I look forward to watching you on TV.”
After the laughter, Capitelli shared chocolate and carrot cake with his former colleagues, audience members and the press.