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Former Artists’ Colony Approved for Home, Commerce By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Tuesday June 14, 2005

The Zoning Adjustments Board’s decision Thursday to approve a use permit for remodeling the recently landmarked monolithic block building at 2750 Adeline St. marked the end of an era for South Berkeley. 

Like the Drayage in West Berkeley, the 12,417-square-foot three-story Adeline Street building is a former warehouse that was transformed into low-rent live/work units for artists. 

And in both cases, a sale spelled the end of what tenants regarded as a uniquely creative community. 

While the sale of the Drayage fell through, inspections by the Fire Department and city building inspector resulted in demands for evictions from units that failed to meet city codes. The West Berkeley warehouse is the location of an ongoing battle between the owner, city officials and renters as most live/work tenants have gradually and reluctantly departed. 

In the case of Adeline Street, a court battle and ensuing evictions resulted from the sale of the building to Sasha Shamszad, a photographer and property developer, who plans to move a catering service and school into the first floor and his photo studio with wife Meredith’s future office and art therapy class space on the second floor. 

For ZAB members, the most controversial part of his plan involves the existing third floor and his plan to add a partial fourth floor on the roof to form a 5,000-square residence for himself. 

But for Natasha Shawver, the real issue has always been the eviction of her family and tenants of four other live/work units after Shamszad bought the building in May 2001 for an undisclosed sum. 

The structure had a long history as an artists’ haven, and its former occupants have included noted underground comic artists R. Crumb and Dori Seda. 

Shawver, who lived in the building for two decades and fought her eviction in court, was on hand Thursday to protest the permit. Her protest stirred an angry retort from Shamszad, who spent a lot of his time complaining about the former tenants and the intricacies of Berkeley bureaucracy. 

The Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), regarded by many developers as a stumbling block to well-laid plans, has already signed off on the project, giving their permission for Shamszad to install large areas of windows along the street facades. 

Known to the LPC as Frederick H. Dakin Warehouse, the structure—built in the wake of the disastrous 1906 earthquake—features the fireproof building block which was manufactured by the warehouse’s builder and namesake. 

Designed by noted Berkeley architect Walter H. Ratcliff and George T. Plowman, the building was designated a city landmark on Aug. 9, 2004. 

When it comes to the interior of the landmark—something over which the LPC has no sway—Berkeley planner Steve Solomon told ZAB that in the city staff’s opinion, “the 5,000-square-foot single-family unit is possibly inappropriate, too large,” and they preferred two units in the space instead of one. 

“If you agree with staff, the cleanest solution is to get rid of the fourth floor,” he said, adding that they ultimately gave a reluctant approval to the plans. 

Solomon said he considered Shawver’s complaints irrelevant, “because in staff’s opinion there were no legal tenants because the [live/work units] had never been sanctioned by the city building department.” 

City officials raised the same argument in the context of the Drayage. 

Shamszad’s tenants were evicted under provisions the state’s 1986 Ellis Act, which gives landlords the right to evict tenants when they remove their property from the rental market. 

Rent Board member Jesse Arreguin appeared at Thursday’s meeting to protest “the loss of affordable artist space and housing,” a subject he said planning staff had failed to address in their report. 

Arreguin urged ZAB and staff to consult with the Rent Board whenever projects involved the loss of rental housing, noting that the rent board and planning ordinances contain conflict definitions of legal housing units. 

Asked by ZAB member David Blake why there wasn’t a parking space in the building for his own residence, Shamszad initially contended that the buildings structure prevented installation of an internal parking space—only to be contradicted by his own architect. 

Member Bob Allen found no flaws in the developer’s plans. 

“It’s a total dog of a building, and I am totally mystified as to why (the LPC) should have any say over ugly buildings,” he said. “It will do a lot for that neighborhood and a lot for the street.” 

When Blake said he was ready to approve the building as submitted, without the parking space Blake requested, the board majority agreed, approving Shamszad’s plan by a seven-two margin, with only Katz and Rick Judd in opposition.