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2005 Brought Disputes Over Development Projects By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Tuesday January 03, 2006

While UC Berkeley projects dominated the politics of land use in the surrounding city, numerous other projects kept the city hopping in 2005. 


Brower memorials 

The year yielded mixed blessings for efforts to memorialize Berkeley-born environmentalist David Brower. 

On Sept. 8, the Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) approved building permits for the David Brower Center, proposed for the southwest corner of the intersection of Oxford Street and Allston Way, along an associated all-affordable housing structure. 

The two buildings will be built on the site of the city’s Oxford Street parking lot. To compensate for the lost parking, plans include one level of underground parking. ZAB member Bob Allen, who said he liked the buildings, cast the lone dissenting vote because he wanted two levels of subterranean parking rather than one. 

With more fundraising needed, construction is still some ways off. 

The other Brower Memorial, a massive sculpture, fared less well. The 356,000-pound artwork, consisting on a massive sphere of blue Brazilian quartzite overlaid with bronze depictions of continents and islands and surmounted by a life-sized bronze depiction of Brower, had been first rejected in San Francisco before PowerBar creators Brian and Jennifer Maxwell offered it to Berkeley. 

Though championed by Mayor Tom Bates, the Civic Arts Commission rejected a series of potential sites in the face of opposition by the public, the city Parks and recreation Commission, UC Berkeley and the East Bay Regional Parks District. 

Eino, the sculptor, then contacted Kennesaw State University in Georgia, which enthusiastically embraced the sculpture. And if all goes as planned, Spaceship Earth will be unveiled in Georgia on Earth Day. 


Ashby BART 

Two major projects are planned for the Ashby BART station’s parking lots. 

The first, the Ed Roberts Center on the station’s eastern lot, has won all the necessary city approvals, and sponsors are now assembling the needed funding. The center, named after Berkeley’s most famous disability activist, will consolidate programs and services for the disabled in a state-of-the art building designed for universal access for people with disabilities. 

In the face of neighborhood opposition, the size of the project was scaled back and a number of parking spaces slated for elimination were restored. 

The second project, a housing-and-commercial building to be erected on the western lot, is only in the very preliminary stages. While some neighbors have gone on record in support of the project, others have expressed concerns that the state laws governing transit villages could create major and potentially adverse impacts on the surrounding neighborhood. 


West Berkeley Bowl 

While most West Berkeley residents and businesses agree that a full-service grocery store along the Ashby Avenue corridor is a good idea, many question Glen Yasuda’s plans to construct a major new Berkeley Bowl and warehouse at the corner of Ninth Street and Heinz Avenue. 

The 90,970-square-foot project comprises two buildings, a 99-space underground parking lot and an additional 102 surface spaces. It includes both a market and a warehouse that would serve both the new store and the existing store on Shattuck Avenue. 

Before the project can be approved, the city would have to amend both its General Plan and its Zoning Ordinance, which currently will not allow the project. 


Building rehabs 

The biggest private development planned for downtown Berkeley is a major rehabilitation and expansion of the Shattuck Hotel, built in 1910. 

Berkeley developer Roy Nee, who had received the blessings of the Landmarks Preservation Commission for his initial plans, put the project on hold in October because of a change of architects and a need to recalculate construction costs.  

Two other venerable Berkeley buildings underwent major renovations in 2005, the landmarked Gorman’s Furniture Building at 2500 Telegraph Ave. and a similar structure at 2956 College Ave., at the corner of Ashby Avenue. 

John Gordon, who owns the College Avenue building, has also proposed to move and rehabilitate two other landmarks, the John Woolley House at 2509 Haste St. and the Ellen Blood House at 2526 Durant Ave. Five-story housing-over-ground-floor-commercial developments are planned at both sites. 

Gordon also brokered the lease of yet another Berkeley landmark, the 1917 UC Theatre at 2036 University Ave. The Zoning Adjustments Board approved plans by Gloria Mendoza and Michael Govan to transform the spacious interior into a dinner theater and jazz club with combined seating for 600. The pair had previously operated Kimball’s East, a now-shuttered jazz club in Emeryville. 


Down by the station 

Three major projects are in development at or near the old Southern Pacific Railway station just south of University Avenue in West Berkeley. 

Construction on a $2.4 million transportation plaza at the landmarked railway station began in April and will provide access to rail, bus, paratransit and taxi service. 

The largest project, still in the planning stages, would occupy the rest of the block on which the station sits with four and five-story apartment/condo buildings with room for ground floor commercial spaces. Presented with two proposals to landmark buildings at the site, the Landmarks Preservation Commission rejected one—Brennan’s Restaurant—and designated the other, the Celia’s Mexican Restaurant building, a structure of merit. 

While the City Council overturned the designation, the developer has yet to submit final plans on the 173-unit project. 

Just across the tracks to the west, developers Christopher Hudson and Evan McDonald have purchased the Drayage, a venerable sheet metal former storage building that until late in the year housed Berkeley artists in live/work units. 

After a deal by owner Lawrence White to sell the structure to developer Ali Kashani fell through, on April 19 city building and fire inspectors slapped White with fines for more than 200 code violations and an order to vacate the building. 

Many tenants refused to leave, triggering a lengthy process of negotiations that finally ended in the fall. The City Council agreed to a $45,000 settlement for the code violations early last month, clearing the way for the sale. 

The developers have declined comment about their plans for the site.  


Sold unbuilt 

Several major projects have changed hands even before construction started. 

The so-called Seagate Building, named after the original developer, is perhaps the single most controversial project now in the pipeline—a nine-story condominium project on Center Street, a half-block west of Shattuck Avenue. 

Seagate Center Partners, which planned the project and obtained the requisite permits, sold the property on May 18 to SNK Captec Arpeggio, LLC, a joint venture corporation between an Arizona builder and a Michigan financial company. 

ZAB members also gave their final approval Dec. 23 to another project that had been approved, then sold before construction. Patrick Kennedy’s Panoramic Interests and Jubilee Restoration had planned a project at 2700 San Pablo Ave., then sold the site and approvals to Curtis + Partners, LLC, of San Francisco in late 2004. 

Library Gardens, the residential complex under construction at 2020 Kittredge St., was placed on the market late in the year as construction neared the midway point. 


Failed project 

Plans to transform Berkeley’s Corporation Yard into a single-family housing tract collapsed within weeks after they surfaced. 

City officials had been meeting with representatives of Pulte Homes, one of the nation’s largest homebuilders, on a proposal to relocate the Corporation Yard—a source of numerous complaints by neighbors—and replace it with housing. 

Word of negotiations leaked to the press in late November, and the developer pulled the plug on Nov. 25. City officials said the proposal foundered on the high costs of finding a replacement site in West Berkeley. 


Scaled back 

After the Berkeley Unified School District held a lengthy public participation process to formulate plans for development on the largely abandoned West Campus site, the district opted instead for a much reduced plan. 

The board chose to rehabilitate existing buildings on the eastern section of the site and to construct a small classroom and administrative addition to the existing auditorium building. 


In the pipeline for 2006 

Other projects which will continue in the new year include: 

• The Grove, a five-story residential-over-commercial project at 1695 University Ave. that would include a Trader Joe’s store. ZAB members have let developers Christopher Hudson and Evan McDonald know that they are not happy with their current plans for the site. The developers are scheduled to present new plans early this year. 

• 740 Heinz Avenue, where Wareham Properties plans to demolish a landmarked warehouse and replace it with a laboratory and manufacturing building. The developer has agreed to scale back plans after residents of the nearby artists’ live/work building at 800 Heinz raised objections. 

• Gilman Fields, where final approvals were granted to construct the first of a series of ballfields being jointly developed along the shoreline at the foot of Gilman Street by the City of Berkeley and the East Bay Regional Parks District. 

• University Senior Housing, 1535 University Ave., a four-story project devoted entirely to seniors earning from 30-60 percent of the Oakland-area average median income, with rents ranging from $435 to $931 monthly. Construction of the highly praised project by Berkeley-based Satellite Housing is now underway. 


Redevelopment tabled 

North Oakland residents successfully derailed—at least for now—a plan that would have created a redevelopment district extending south from the Berkeley border. 

The project, located in the council district of Oakland Vice Mayor Jane Brunner, was formally unveiled at a public meeting on May 9, only to be greeted with withering suspicion of the large majority of speakers. Two weeks later the plan had been shelved—at least for the time being. 


Albany projects 

In October, Los Angeles developer Rick Caruso unveiled preliminary sketches of the open-air shopping mall he wants to build on the northwestern parking lot of Golden Gate Fields. 

The developer has teamed with Magna Entertainment, the Canadian corporation which operates some of the nation’s most famous horse racing venues, to build malls at their California tracks. Albany voters will have the final say about the project under a law that requires a referendum on all waterfront developments. 

The second major Albany project to surface this year comes from Safeway, which proposes to demolish its 1500 Solano Ave. store and replace it with a new store and some 40 units of condominiums. The plan drew mixed reviews when presented to neighbors in November..