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Corporation Yard Development PlanPulled Off Table By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Friday November 25, 2005

A plan that would have turned Berkeley’s Corporation Yard into a housing project collapsed Wednesday when the would-be developer pulled the plug. 

City officials and Pulte Homes, one of the country’s leading housing developers, had been working quietly for almost a year on a project that would have relocated the Corporation Yard from the heart of a residential neighborhood to a vacant industrial site in West Berkeley. 

The announcement came in an email sent to city officials and neighbors late Wednesday morning. 

“The reason is fundamentally financial,” wrote Mike Kim of Pulte Homes, who works in the acquisitions and entitlements department of the firm’s regional office in Pleasanton.  

That sentence was followed by this somewhat more cryptic offering: “In reevaluating Pulte’s financial and entitlement assumptions based on what we know, the deal is stressed. It is not in Pulte’s character to push through a stressed deal because in doing so the merits of the projects is [sic] compromised and the stakehold ers (Pulte, City Hall, Neighbors) involved may be asked to make concessions that they would otherwise be unwilling to make.” 

The proposal by Pulte, a high-flying firm based in Bloomfield, Mich., would have relocated the yard to the site of the old McCaul ey Foundry, located at Seventh and Carleton streets in the industrial area of West Berkeley. 

In presentation to Corporation Yard neighbors last week, Kim offered a tentative proposal that would have placed 70 bungalow-style single-family residences at th e Corporation Yard site, though he stressed that the concept was only preliminary.  

Judith Sager, a neighbor of the yard, said she had hoped the project would finally end the long and often contentious relationship between the yard and the surrounding neighborhood. 

“I am not surprised that they pulled out, but I am disappointed,” she said. “I’ve been here more than fifteen years, and some of us much longer, and we’ve seen a lot of scenarios floated, torpedoed, put on hold and put out of mind,” she said. 

“It’s unfortunate that they pulled out,” said Mayor Tom Bates. “It was an opportunity to move the Corporation Yard from what is clearly an inappropriate site.” 

Kamlarz and Bates both criticized Pulte officials for raising the hopes of neighbors before they had fully committed to the project. 

“It’s unfortunate,” said Bates. 

“I’m sorry they got everyone fired up,” said Kamlarz. “These guys walk away and we’re left to deal with the community.” 



Major issues 

At approximately 180,000 square feet, compared to the existing yard’s 200,000, the foundry site is about 10 percent smaller, and one issue that had yet to be resolved was whether the smaller site could have met all the city’s needs. 

But the biggest issue was the cost of the foundry property, said Bates and City Manager Phil Kamlarz. 

“As I understand it, the owners were asking $60 a square foot,” said Kamlarz. 

“We have a public trust,” said Bates. “We have to sell at fair market value and we can only pay fair market value. They (the owners of the foundry) have a very steep price.” 

The mayor said the value of the corporate yard site as residential land is far greater than the value of industrially zoned property. 

Earlier in the week, Kamlarz told a reporter that other potential problems also con fronted the project. 

The Berkeley Corporation Yard is an official city landmark, designated as such on July 1, 2002. The yard’s central building, built in 1916, was designed by architect Walter Ratcliff, who created many of the city’s other landmark buil dings. 

Though not an official landmark, the McCauley Foundry has been carried on the Berkeley Landmarks Preservation Commission’s list of “potential initiation” since April 3, 2000. No formal application has followed since. 

Another issue is the potenti al presence of hazardous wastes remaining in the soils at both sites, which might have to be remedied before development could take place. The standards would be stricter for a residential project than for an industrial site. 


Troubled neighbors 

For decades, the 4.8-acre Corporation Yard has been the source of complaints from neighbors, who aren’t fond of the noise and traffic the facility produces in the heart of a residential neighborhood. 

Not only does the facility house more than 170 city vehicles, ranging from trucks to street-sweepers and other heavy equipment, but it employs a large number of workers from the city’s Public Works, Parks and Recreation and Waterfront departments who work on a variety of projects. 

The property occupies most of the center of the block bounded by Allston Way on the north, Bancroft Way on the south and Acton Street on the east and Bonar Street on the west. 

To the east and south, the property borders streets lined with single family homes, while the southern edge of t he block is edged with a row of lawn bowling courts behind a single row of multifamily apartments which, in turn, face single family homes across Bonar. 

Half of the Allston Way frontage is single family homes, the rest being multi-family housing and Stra wberry Creek Park. 

It might be hard to find anyone in Berkeley who favors keeping an industrial facility in the heart of a neighborhood consisting mainly of single family homes. 

“The neighborhood has evolved to wish (the yard and its activities) weren’t there to impact them, and the corporation yard people are wanting to move, but they have no place to go and no money,” Sager said. 

Many city officials would like to see the yard moved, too, as evidenced during a Dec. 9, 2003 city council discussion abou t mandated seismic improvements to the facility, when several councilmembers said they’d like to move the yard to an industrial area—which the Pulte proposal would do.  

“For years Margaret Breland worked with neighbors around the corporation yard about noise, parking and other issues,” said City Councilmember Darryl Moore, speaking of his predecessor as the district’s council representative. 

Sager, for one is glad to have Moore on the council “because he lives just a couple of blocks away and he’s been very active on the issue, even before he ran for council.” 


The proposal 

Sager and fellow neighbor Anna Natille, who lives on West Street near the site (West dead-ends on the site to the north and south), were among the neighbors who met with Kim on Nov. 16, when he presented his pitch. 

Both emerged with favorable impressions. 

“He told us some ideas, but nothing is set in stone. He said he wanted to develop the project with the neighbors,” Natille said. “The main idea was to build 70 single-family bung alow-style dwellings.” 

“He seems to have an idea that fits,” said Sager. “Bungalow-style single-family residences that fit with the neighborhood. 

One thing neighbors say they don’t want is high density, something Moore also doesn’t want to see. 

Interviewed before the deal collapsed, Moore cautiously allowed that he liked what he’d seen, though he stressed the project was very preliminary—a term repeated by Kamlarz and neighbors in earlier interviews. 


The developer 

In its May 14 issue, Business Week magazine ranked Pulte Home number 12 on its list of the country’s top 15 corporate performers. 

The firm has taken a strong stake in the East Bay, with projects in Emeryville and Richmond.  

The Richmond City Council overturned Oct. 30 a planning commissi on vote that would have denied Pulte the right to build 280 homes on land zoned for commercial use in the Marina Bay neighborhood 


Photograph by Richard Brenneman  

Heavy equipment in the Berkeley Corporation Yard stood idle Wednesday afternoon on the eve of the Thanksgiving holiday—the same day a national developer killed a plan to transform the yard into a residential housing project.