The newest plans for a condo complex at 2701 Shattuck Ave. have risen to five floors and nearly twice the size allowed without a host of specialized use permits attached.
Add to that the “string-bean” minuscule commercial space on the ground floor and a main entrance on Derby Street and Zoning Adjustments Board members Thursday were willing to add another ingredient on their own—a sometimes-withering scorn.
The plans so derisively greeted by ZAB mark the third effort by Rev. Gordon Choyce to build his condominium complex near one of Berkeley’s busiest intersections.
The project wasn’t presented for action, but to introduce the board to a third version of Choyce’s plans for the site.
Choyce, who was building non-profit affordable housing until the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development cut off his funds amid allegations of improper diversions of training funds to building projects, has floated three versions of plans for the site; only the second received favorable comments.
The first five-story version earned a highly vocal thumbs down from the Design Review Committee and the second, smaller structure won a favorable look from the panel and ZAB but was withdrawn by the developer.
Now the site of Bargain Interstate Motors, the property is occupied by a large expanse of asphalt and the decaying, grafitti-ridden garage bays of a filling station that once occupied the site.
The building at Shattuck and Derby presented to ZAB would stand a block north of the Shattuck Avenue/Adeline Street “Y,” and would join with the adjoining self-storage warehouse to form a five-floor phalanx extending from Derby to Ward Streets—a point of some concern to ZABsters who worried about the overshadowing of the neighborhood to the east.
The project is the creation of Rev. Gordon Choyce Sr., pastor of the Missionary Church of God in Christ and head of the troubled low-income housing builder Jubilee Restoration.
He bought the property through a family trust a year ago from A1 Shattuck, a limited liability corporation (LLC) based in San Francisco. The sales price according to the Alameda County Assessor’s office was $1.475 million.
Thirteen days after the sale, Choyce’s son filed papers creating another LLC, 2701 Shattuck Condominiums, although the family trust remains as legal owner.
Builder Ronnie Turner, a former city housing supervisor and now vice president of Jubilee Restoration, introduced architect Jonathan Ennis, who fielded most of the board’s questions.
Because of its location is on a major transportation corridor and within walking distance of the Berkeley Bowl and the Ashby BART station, Ennis said, “any planner would want to see a dense residential project on the site.”
Ennis pointed to conciliatory gestures to project neighbors, including a stepped down two-story house-like extension next to the closest home on Derby Street and the massing of density on the side facing Shattuck.
Despite the repeatedly voiced concerns of the Design Review Committee and some ZAB members who had urged keeping the project to four floors, Ennis said economic realities demanded a fifth. “It’s not viable without it,” he said.
The zoning panel was uniformly critical of the building’s 1,700-square-foot ground-floor commercial space, compromised of a pair of end-to-end wedges joined by a narrow connecting area that one member noted would make supervision difficult.
“It’s not appropriate for a Whole Foods,” Ennis acknowledged, adding that a restaurant, book store or some other business catering to foot traffic might be more appropriate.
“I’m concerned that the retail space is too shallow and too awkward,” said ZAB Chair Andy Katz.
“I wish it could be bigger, but there’s just not much more room.”
Most of the floor is consumed by parking, which is provided by the electric lifts so popular in the buildings of developer Patrick Kennedy, who had been Choyce’s partner in the project until the cleric bought him out.
Neighbors criticized the minimal retail space, the project’s mass and the fact that the entrance had been relocated from Shattuck to Derby Street.
Bo Schonberger, who appeared as the representative of 45 households in the neighborhood, said the project “is too big and massive for the scale of the neighborhood.”
He charged that the project would create more traffic problems on already congested arteries. “We also want to know who all the partners are and who the investors are,” he said.
Schonberger also asked for comprehensive shadow studies to show how much sunlight the project would block to homes in the surrounding neighborhood, and for thorough soil tests for contaminants from the gas station and garage.
ZAB member and architect Bob Allen said he was “totally mystified how we got to a project with five stories on a site when the staff’s calculation shows ten fewer units than what’s proposed and 35,000 square feet versus the staff’s initial (calculation of) 19,000.”
Allen also questioned the developer’s contention that the addition of five units of lower-price inclusionary units qualified for a density bonus, since the number represents 17 percent of the total, lower than the 20 percent minimum set by statute.
“It’s beyond my conception how staff and the applicant got to this mess. Of the 13 development standards, this project does not meet 8 of them,” he said. “To me, a concession doesn’t mean you can take away all of these planning standards and ignore them.”
While Principal Planner Debbie Sanderson said Choyce didn’t need a variance to build a five-floor building at the site, none of the ZAB members liked the notion.
While Chris Tiedemann said she likes the home-like structure on Derby, she said she couldn’t say the same for “five stories looming over a residential neighborhood.”
David Blake also found fault with the size of the project and added that “our job is to help make retail space that lives up to the street. It will not attract tenants; it’s useless space no one will want to move into. Send it back to Design Review and say ‘Do the right thing.’”
“It’s a stringbean-sized retail space that won’t rent,” said Rick Judd. “We have no obligation to give 15 more units. The question is, is this the right volume of building on this site?” Judd also noted that the building will throw the first home on Derby into shadow year-round.
Raudel Wilson, who described himself as a “true believer” in ground floor retail and a fan of ownership housing, said he was concerned about both the size of the commercial space and the building’s impact on neighbors.
“I strongly think the retail needs to be more usable...and the building needs to step down to four or three stories closer to the neighborhood.”
“You’ve given the applicant a lot of food for thought. We should continue this to another meeting,” said city planner Sanderson.
But there was no continuance since the project was on the agenda as a preview, and Ennis was sent back to the drawing board.›