‘Flying Cottage’ Hits Turbulence Over Parking Lot By J. DOUGLAS ALLEN-TAYLOR

Tuesday May 17, 2005

What was thought to have been a soft landing for South Shattuck Avenue’s long-disputed “flying cottage” may end up being a head-first crash into the hard asphalt of a backyard parking lot. 

Last Thursday, after an hour-and-a-half hearing, members of the City of Berkeley’s Zoning Adjustments Board voted 1-4, with one abstention, to deny a motion that would have decided that the three-story mixed use structure at 3045 Shattuck Ave. was in compliance with Berkeley’s zoning ordinance. 

Robert Allen and Raudel A. Wilson voted yes; David Blake, Dean Metzger, Carrie Sprague, Andy Katz voted no, with Rick Judd abstaining. Jesse Anthony was absent and Chris Tiedemann recused herself because she was not present at the original hearing. 

Owner Christina Sun had proposed building a three-story, commercial-residential mixed-use structure on the site to replace a one-story residential dwelling. Sun has already raised the original dwelling and built two stories under it, but construction was halted over charges that she misrepresented the ultimate use of the building, and since then—with neighbors fighting the construction—the issue has dragged through a long series of City Council and zoning hearings. 

The popular “flying cottage” name for the structure came from the fact that since construction was halted, the original one-story dwelling appears to fly in the air on top of a two-story, temporary structure. 

The May 12 hearing centered on whether or not the building’s proposed two-space backyard parking lot conformed to Berkeley’s backyard parking ordinances, and was continued from a April 28 hearing. 

At issue is planning staff’s contention—which Principal City Planner Debra Sanderson says has never been disputed by either the Planning Commission or the City Council—that the 1999 revision of Berkeley’s Zoning Ordinance which appeared to ban parking in the definition of a “yard” was actually what she called a “drafting error.” 

“While I don’t feel 100 percent for approval,” said Commissioner Wilson, “under the guidelines, it appears that the proposal fits as a mixed commercial-residential use.” 

In announcing his vote rejecting that interpretation, Commissioner Katz called the zoning ordinance vague, complicated and confusing. 

“We’ve got different interpretations of this issue from different people: one from the former ZAB Chair and present City Councilmember [Laurie Capitelli], another from staff, and another from the applicant and her attorney,” Katz said. “I’m just not convinced that [staff’s interpretation] is consistent with the ordinance.” 

Katz suggested setting the matter for a use permit public hearing, but was told by staff that ZAB had no power to force a use permit under the ordinance. 

“We shouldn’t allow people to put up buildings in the middle of the night and then come here and have us say, gee, they’ve spent so much money already, we should just let them go forward,” said Commissioner Metzger. 

He said Sun should win ZAB approval only if she moved the parking into a garage on the first floor of the structure. The owner’s representative had earlier told commissioners that a garage had originally existed on the property, but was destroyed when the building was raised to its present three-story height. 

Because five votes were needed to either kill the issue or move it forward, ZAB commissioners agreed to continue the hearing until May 26. Tiedmann said that she was willing to view a tape of the April 28 hearing to make her eligible to vote at the May 26 hearing. However, with four votes already against the backyard parking lot, it was not certain what effect any new hearing, or new vote, would have on the project, unless the owner changes the parking proposal. 

In answer to a question from the board, planner Sanderson said that ZAB has within its discretion to revisit any adverse zoning decision if the owner returns with altered plans.e