Your recent article about the New Leaf Gallery’s move out of its Berkeley location unfairly puts the blame on “development pressures”. Not only did the article contain a number of inaccurate statements, but also the overall picture that you painted does not describe what is happening and leaves your readers with the wrong impression. As the architects working with Carl Lasagna, the property owner, we feel the need to respond.
It is not true that New Leaf had been “notified” six months ago. We have been working in good faith for two years with New Leaf to design a mixed-use project around the heart of their wonderful garden and to provide them with the indoor gallery space they desired, and we are disappointed that they have now decided to move to downtown San Francisco. The landlord encouraged the gallery to stay and was willing to work the plans around their needs, at the expense of the development potential of his property. As New Leaf wanted to reduce their overhead, we suggested one or two small storefront businesses on the site to keep the rent affordable. Our design schemes would also have encouraged pedestrian activity and added more diversity to the neighborhood.
Before hiring our firm the landlord offered the New Leaf Gallery to stay in the existing space in its current condition, but asked for a longer-term lease agreement. The gallery declined the offer, but was open to the prospect of a development that would give them an indoor facility on the site. The overall plan included the option to move into another building across the street during construction. New Leaf uttered concerns about a temporary relocation during construction, which may have been the main reason for them to disengage from the process. However, they also mentioned the changing nature of their business, becoming increasingly Internet based. The landlord would have liked to preserve the garden gallery, but it is New Leaf that decided to trade it for an indoor gallery in San Francisco. After your article was published, Brigitte of New Leaf agreed it was misleading to imply that they were forced out and acknowledged the planning effort to shape the project around their gallery. In the end, relocating to San Francisco made more sense as a business decision for the New Leaf Gallery.
The Lasagna family was among the founders of the Westbrae Neighborhood, going back almost a century. Carl Lasagna is a local resident and feels the responsibility to maintain and improve the property and to serve the neighborhood at large. The Westbrae Neighborhood Commercial District, as it is designated in the Berkeley Zoning Code, is intended to “Provide locations for uses supplying convenience goods and services for residents of the immediate area.” Although many neighbors, including us, enjoyed the beautifully crafted outdoor gallery, others weren’t even aware of it, due to the introverted nature of the business. With the gallery moving away to San Francisco, the focus should be on what the future may hold for the site. It is part of a larger effort to invigorate the small commercial area along Gilman Street. Our firm has been working closely with the Ohlone Greenway Team, including the late Karl Linn, Berkeley Parks and Recreation and Carl Lasagna to build a small public plaza at the intersection of the Ohlone Bike path and Gilman Street, in the heart of the Westbrae Neighborhood. We would like to see a lively street scene with businesses that cater to the needs of the community.
Dietmar Lorenz is an architect with DSA Architects in Berkeley.Ã