Members of the Zoning Adjustments Board’s subcommittee on the city’s controversial application of the density bonus are beginning to see the light, they told fellow ZAB members Thursday.
ZAB member Rick Judd said that after the panel met June 6 with Deputy City Attorney Zach Cowan and three members of the Planning Commission he realized that “a lot of avenues are foreclosed to us by the city attorney’s view of the law.”
“It was fairly clear from the meeting that Berkeley’s approach to the law was fairly unusual,” Judd said.
Instead of awarding the bonus based on the actual project presented in the application, ZAB member Dean Metzger said, city staff calculates the maximum size the project could be if all the zoning strictures were relaxed and adds the density bonus on top of that, “creating huge projects that the neighbors don’t like.”
To get sanity back into the process, Metzger said, “staff needs to develop what the project size would be if all zoning ordinances were applied, then add the density bonus on top of that.”
State law decrees that developers who include condos or apartments with prices limited to what low- (or, in the case of condos, middle-) income tenants can afford to pay are allowed to make up for lost profits by enlarging their projects beyond normal limits.
Subcommittee member Dave Blake said Monday he is particularly concerned with two modes city planning staff use in calculating the extra space a developer receives as a result of adding such “inclusionary” units into a project.
By deciding to allow a building’s roof space as the building’s so-called “open space” requirement, builders are allowed to submit plans for projects that extend to the full dimensions of their lot.
Another innovation is allowing parking spaces to be defined by the sometimes-three-high electrical lift parking spaces incorporated into many buildings rather than by floor area, which bestows even greater density.
By incorporating lifts and rooftop open space, Blake said, developers can achieve densities beyond those allowed by a more conventional applications of the bonuses law.
ZAB members noted Thursday that the interpretations used in Berkeley lead developers to submit two projects, the first to maximize density bonus space, and the second which reflects the final project as ultimately submitted for ZAB approval.
“Every project becomes two projects, and my hope is that the mission of the Density bonus Subcommittee is to get it back to one project,” Blake said at the close of the meeting.
The subcommittee’s next task is an examination of how other cities approach the density bonus—which revised state law has recently boosted from 25 percent to 35 percent.
Several neighbors of a construction project at 2844 Derby St. asked ZAB members to intervene in the case of a building project in a case that they said Senior Planner Greg Powell told them was wrongly approved.
An Arts and Crafts home at the site had been severely damaged by a Dec. 24, 2001, blaze and had remained unrepaired and unoccupied for nearly three years until a new owner started work last November.
Neighbors were startled so see the structure being expanded to three stories in the rear, acting on a permit application that listed the work as restoration rather than addition. A stop-work order issued in April has suspended the project.
Senior Planner Debbie Sanderson told ZAB that her department is in the middle of dealing with the site, and said no decision has been made on the status of the use permit.
Over the protests of one neighbor, ZAB authorized construction of a detached three-car garage at 1734 La Vereda Trail.
Leo Simon, who lives next door said he was worried about soil stability, parking and other issues, but ZAB members unanimously approved a mitigated negative declaration that said all environmental concerns had been adequately addressed, then voted to authorize construction.