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Design Panel Slams Latest ‘Flying Cottage’ Plan By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Tuesday December 21, 2004

City Design Review Committee (DRC) members got their first glimpse Thursday at the latest plans for the “floating cottage” at 3045 Shattuck Ave., and they didn’t like what they saw. 

“Grossly overdone,” said chair David Snippen. 

“An ugly facade with no architectural features,” said David Blake, referring to the structure’s second floor. 

“This takes a really wrong turn. . .a detriment to the neighborhood,” said member Carrie Olson. 

“It’s an awful design,” said Bob Allen. 

The same panel sang the praises of the Berkeley Bowl proposed for Ninth Street and Heinz Avenue in West Berkeley, giving preliminary approval to it and three other projects: 

• Satellite Housing’s plans for an 80-unit senior residential facility at 1535 University Ave. 

• A three-story, eight-unit residential project at 1406 San Pablo Ave. 

• The landscaping and fencing plans for Congregation Beth El. 

For first-time owner/builder Christina Sun, it was not the first time that her plywood-clad box at Shattuck Avenue and Essex Street has drawn withering criticism. 

The problems began last year when she hired an architect and a contractor to raise the existing cottage, mounting it atop a two-story shell built on a new, enlarged foundation. 

Irate neighbors called the city, and an investigation disclosed inconsistencies on Sun’s building permit application, declaring that the finished product would be a single-family home, and not the multiple-occupancy dwelling with a ground floor shop she set out to build. 

Because the conversion required a use permit and approval from the city Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB), city officials shut down construction and ZAB subsequently declared the structure a public nuisance. 

The city did allow Sun to cover gaps in the cottage’s roof with plywood and plastic sheeting to keep out winter rains. An inspection later revealed she’d laid down roofing paper, the first step in installing shingles, so the city ordered the work halted. 

“There’s been a problem with her truthfulness or lack thereof,” Senior Planner Debra Sanderson told the Daily Planet at the time. 

Speaking for Sun at the meeting was her architect, Andus Brandt of Berkeley, who acknowledged that the designs “were not the most creative solution.” 

“She was not a devious developer,” Brandt said. “Her original intent was to strengthen the foundation, and the plan-checker [at the city Permit Service Center] told her she could have two [extra] floors by carefully avoiding aspects that would trigger a plan check.” 

The architect said that neither he nor Sun had any idea that the ensuing project “would be such that it would lead to the revocation of the [building] permit over a year ago.” 

The main difference between the old design and his newer version, he said, was it added more windows to the ground floor commercial space and four more street trees. 

Brandt didn’t win over project neighbors, who heaped scorn on his client. 

“We don’t believe anything she says.” said Victoria Ortiz, a Shattuck Avenue neighbor. 

Ortiz was one of a group of neighbors who led the drive to close the liquor store at the northeast corner of Shattuck and Essex, directly across the street from the flying cottage. 

“Four months later, another form of blight disrupted our way of life,” she said, waving pictures of the structure. 

“The building’s architecture is completely out of place, and the property is way too tall. . .The neighborhood feels passionately about this.” 

Particularly vexing, she said, was Sun’s refusal to negotiate: “After one session, she refused any more mediation.” 

“Send it back to the drawing board,” Ortiz urged. 

Ava Jordain, who lives on Essex Street just east of the building, said she “was so angry when she raised this thing. I felt so powerless.” 

One of her worries was the project’s effect on parking on her street, which, unlike many other streets in the south of Ashby neighborhood, isn’t restricted to two-hour stays by residential parking permits. 

“It’s totally taken up during the day by BART commuters,” Jordain said. “Then between 5:45 and 6:45 p.m. it’s almost empty until it fills up again because of La Peña and the Starry Plough,” two popular South Berkeley gathering places. 

“The 2100 block also hosts the community hot tub, so we have all these visitors who know the code.” 

“What’s the code?” quipped committee member David Blake. 

Because the ground floor retail space would be less than 1,500 square feet, Sun doesn’t have to supply a parking space for commercial customers. 

Jack Appleyard, another neighbor, aimed his critique at the architecture. 

“It may not be the ugliest building in Berkeley, but it’s desperately trying to be,’ he said. “Jacking up a bungalow to three stories is something new, and it’s a horrible precedent for Shattuck Avenue. Would you like it in your block?” 

At the end of the meeting, as committee members laid out the specifics of what they wanted to see, Brandt sat in his chair in the audience, knitting. 

When a photographer attempted to snap a shot, a woman seated beside him grabbed at the camera. 

Committee members also had problems with Prince Hall Arms, a four-story 42-unit senior citizen residential building with street-front commercial space at 3132 Martin Luther King Jr. Way. 

A retirement facility sponsored by an African-American Masonic organization, the project was originally approved in 1995 but never built. 

Osha Neumann, a Berkeley artist and civil rights attorney who owns a Victorian adjacent to the site on the north, spoke in opposition, 

“It will be the end of the sunlight for me,” he said. Neumann asked for modifications that would either reduce the project’s overall height or provide more light to his home. 

But what committee members disliked most were the project’s rather exuberant color scheme—“It looks like how my daughter dressed when she was nine years old,” quipped member Carrie Olson—and its use of corrugated metal siding in a neighborhood filled with turn-of-the-20th-century buildings. 

The committee sent the project back to the drawing board..