After years of wrangling, heated neighborhood opposition and repeated design revisions, the Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) cleared the way Monday for a five-story condominium complex at 2700 San Pablo Ave.
The special Monday meeting was called to consider an appeal by project-area neighbors of the Design Review Committee’s approval of revised project plans submitted by Curtis + Partners Development of San Francisco.
The project, located at the corner of San Pablo Avenue and Carleton Street, will feature three levels of residential condos over four ground floor two-story live/work spaces and a purely commercial space.
As first proposed, the project was in the hands of different developers and architects, and the intended use was apartments. Patrick Kennedy’s Panoramic Interests had partnered with the Rev. Gordon Choyce’s Jubilee Restoration, with Panoramic holding a 73 percent interest.
The building began as a five-story, 63-unit project in March 1999, but was scrapped in the face of strong neighborhood opposition. Eight months later, the project was back with new architects who had scaled in back to 48 units in four stories.
ZAB denied that project eight months later, on a 7-2 vote and Christopher Hudson, project manager for the building, refused to consider ZAB’s suggestions that he scale back the size of the structure. ZAB then rejected the building as too dense for the surrounding neighborhood.
Finally, in July, 2002, the developers won city approval to build a scaled back four-story 35-unit project
Kennedy and Choyce pulled the plug in August 2003 and put the project up for sale after Jubilee was unable to raise funds to buy out Kennedy’s interest and Hudson told reporters that Kennedy had decided to concentrate only on larger projects.
The project was listed with Norheim & Yost, who handle many large scale transactions, especially in West Berkeley. Curtis + Partners bought the project with the approved permits for the scaled-back project in 2004, resubmitted the plans as a condo project and with a new architect and won approval from ZAB in December 2004.
Curtis’s project is a 43,245-square-foot structure with 35 units, including the four live/work and one commercial spaces.
By the time of Monday’s ZAB vote, the project had gone through at least five different design changes.
Monday’s appeal from long-time project critics Julie DIckinson and Laurie Bright argued that ZAB should reconsider the project because its intended use had changed from apartments to condos and the designs had undergone significant changes.
The greatest structural change was a move from an open glass-fronted building—which would have required steel frame construction—to a concrete-framed design that replace much of the glass with concrete sheer walls.
ZAB member Dave Blake, who chaired Monday’s meeting in the absence of Chair Andy Katz, agreed with critics that the use permit should be reopened, calling the cement a “major modification ... it’s a different design.”
David Snippen, vice chair of the Design Review Committee (DRC), told ZAB members that the glass-front design had been taken from the previously approved plans, which Curtis had told the committee needed to be changed because of economic considerations.
“We asked for some means to lighten up the appearance along San Pablo Avenue,” Snippen said. “In that sense, we find to progress has been successful.”
“There were legitimate reasons why they did it,” said ZAB and DRC member Bob Allen. “They addressed virtually all the items in the appeal to our satisfaction.”
ZAB member Carrie Sprague disagreed, saying, “These were very major changes.”
“I have all kinds of problems with the project,” said ZAB member Dean Metzger, who particularly objected to the fact that the building was considered to front on Carleton Street when the bulk of its mass is concentrated along San Pablo.
“Those issues were already addressed,” said member Chris Tiedemann. “It’s not fair to the applicant or the public to go through items that are not subject to a hearing.”
“It’s up to us to decide” if the issues merited a new hearing, said Blake sided with Sprague on the need for a new hearing, but lost in a 5-3 vote. Blake then sided with the majority on a vote to deny the appeal.
For project critics—who weren’t allowed to address the board on the project—the last recourse is an appeal to the City Council, where similar projects have been given the green light.
A permit to demolish an existing metal-framed former gas station on the site was approved on Sept. 29. Soil contaminated by the hazardous gasoline additive MTBE had been removed from the site a decade earlier.