Weighty Wednesday Agendas for ZAB, Planners By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Tuesday April 12, 2005

Berkeley’s planning commissioners will face only two action items Wednesday, each freighted with enough potential controversy to carry a meeting.  

Members of the Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) face a far fuller agenda for Thursday, though only one item ranks high on the potential inflammatory scale. 

When planners meet Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst Ave., they’ll confront a report and recommendations for the Creeks Task Force Work Plan, budget and timelines and a subcommittee’s recommendations on proposed revisions to the city Landmarks Preservation Ordinance and accompanying zoning codes. 

The hot potato when ZAB gathers at 7 p.m. Thursday in council chambers at Old City Hall, 2134 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way, is the Urban Housing Group’s plans for a mixed-use residential and commercial project at 700 University Ave., a site that houses two city landmarks. 

The Creeks Task Force, formed by the city to deal with legal and other issues arising from the multitude of waterways flowing under the city in aging concrete culverts, is scheduled to begin considering issues starting with its May 2 meeting—pending approval of its format, schedule and proposed $100,000 city funding allocation by planning commissioners and the city council. 

The other and more immediate issue is the planners’ response to the landmarks ordinance, which members of the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) recently submitted after more than four years of deliberations. 

A four-member planning subcommittee headed by Commission Chair Harry Pollack and Sara Shumer discussed the proposed ordinances over four meetings starting Feb. 9. 

The panel failed to reach consensus on the controversial “structure of merit” designation, which acknowledges buildings that have undergone modifications to an extent that they don’t merit the greater “landmark” designation. 

While the LPC sought equal status with ZAB on demolitions of designated buildings, the majority voted to leave the process in ZAB’s hands, but allowed the LPC to issue recommendations that ZAB would have to issue specific findings to overturn. The panel could reach no agreement on what process to follow if ZAB overruled the LPC’s no-demolition recommendation. 

Similarly, the subcommittee agreed that LPC shouldn’t be allowed to determine the level of environmental review on applications to alter or demolish landmarks, but they agreed that ZAB would have to set out specific reasons to override LPC recommendations against the applications. 

The panel made no finding on whether the LPC should review projects involving all residential and non-residential buildings over 50 years old. Currently, landmarks members review referrals of demolitions of all non-residential buildings over 40 years old. 

ZAB’s meeting will focus on hearings for seven projects, but the 700 University Ave. project is the most controversial. 

Preservationists recently tried to landmark two structures on the site, in addition to the already landmarked 1913 Southern Pacific Railroad Station. 

While the LPC declined to landmark the popular Brennan’s Irish Pub on the northeast corner of the block, the commission designated the Celia’s building to the south as a structure of merit. 

While Urban Housing’s Dan Deibel said he’ll reserve the station as a new home for Brennan’s, he said his plans call for demolition of Celia’s, a move certain to provoke spirited opposition. 

Also on the ZAB agenda are hearings on legitimizing the illegally altered seating on the bakery and cafe at 1250 Addison St.—originally The Bread Workshop and soon to be the Zest Cafe; adding a small upper story to a home at 2644 Ellsworth St., a redesign of the internal space of a building at 1700 Fifth St., plans for a new home at 2615 Marin Ave., additions to an apartment building at 2901 Otis St. and a storefront addition to an apartment at 1043 Virginia St.ª