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Landmarks Commission Pans Prince Hall Project By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Tuesday February 07, 2006

Berkeley’s Landmarks Preservation Commissioners issued a scathing review of plans for the Prince Hall Arms, a four-story, 42-unit senior citizen residential and commercial building planned for 3132 Martin Luther King Jr. Way. 

The commission was charged with reviewing the impact of the project on historical resources in the surrounding area because the project is receiving federal funding. 

Commissioners faulted project proponents for submitting drawings that inaccurately minimized the scale of the four-story turreted structure in comparison with surrounding buildings. 

By unanimous vote, the commission also said that the area of potential impacts needed to be enlarged. The commission also voted unanimously to declare that the structure as planned adversely impacted historical structures in the area, as well as their historic context. 

“I was very concerned about what looked like doctoring of the pictures” regarding the proposed building’s height and mass, said commissioner Patti Dacey. “This is like ripping the heart out of the context of the neighborhood.” 

James Peterson, who is representing the project for the Prince Hall Masons—an African-American Masonic organization created at a time when the Freemasons were excluding African Americans from membership—had told the commission that he would take the issue to the City Council “if you take action contrary to what I think is reasonable action.” 

Several project neighbors spoke in opposition, including attorney Osha Neumann, whose Victorian home and office is located next to the project. 

Dori Kojima, project manager for Satellite Housing, an affordable housing developer, spoke in favor of the project, which she described as “a great asset for the neighborhood.” 

Robin Wright of the Lorin District Neighborhood Association, called the project “truly horrific, with no redeeming qualities for the neighborhood.” Her view was echoed by other neighbors. 

“This has been very educational,” said city Housing Senior Planner Tim Stroshane after the vote. “I will revise my report and I will be submitting it on behalf of the city to the State Office of Historic Preservation.” The office will make the final recommendation to Washington. 

The hearing came at a bad time for the developer because the neighborhood has been galvanized in recent months by a proposal to build a major housing project nearby on the Ashby BART parking lot which has raised extensive opposition. 


H.J. Heinz Building 

Commissioners also turned down a proposal by the owners of the landmarked H.J. Heinz Building at 2900 San Pablo Ave. 

The building’s owners wanted to remove galvanized siding from the rear of the building and replace it with stucco to match the exterior of the building’s San Pablo frontage, but the commission denied the proposal on a 6-0-1 vote, with member Fran Packard abstaining. 

Gary Parsons, an architect recently appointed to the board by City Councilmember Laurie Capitelli, said that the siding reflects the building’s past and the reason the structure was landmarked. 

At an earlier hearing, Parsons had suggested replacement of the aging siding with new and more durable corrugated siding that would replicate the original and last longer. 

The commission did vote to allow the demolition of an aging detached garage building that members agreed posed a traffic hazard in light of the anticipated increase in area traffic that would result if construction of a new Berkeley Bowl is permitted directly to the west. 

Commissioners also voted to landmark the Oaks Theater at 1861 Solano Ave., giving the owner an option to retain the structure in its present form, the result of a 1935 remodeling, or to restore it to its original Spanish-Moorish architecture. 


Hot issues 

The commission also dealt with a series of politically sensitive issues, including the new downtown plan, UC Berkeley developments planned for the Memorial Stadium area and the City Council’s deliberations over proposed revisions to the Landmarks Preservation Ordinance (LPO)—the law the commission administers on behalf of the city. 

Because the new downtown plan will include a survey of historical buildings in the city center, members Leslie Emmington and Dacey said it was important for commissioners to attend the meetings of the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee that will be considering the topic. 

Members also addressed a March 8 meeting of multiple city commissions at which UC Berkeley is scheduled to brief them on its plans for a Student High Performance Center to be built adjacent to the stadium. 

As one of the conditions of the settlement of the city’s suit against the university’s Long Range Development Plan for 2020, the university agreed to brief city commissions on similar proposals. 

Emmington said the university should make a presentation to the landmarks commission because their plans directly affect several existing and proposed landmarks. 

“We request that the University of California come the Landmarks Preservation Commission at a regular meeting,” Emmington told commission secretary Janet Homrighausen, offering her proposal in the form of a motion. Dacey agreed, offering a second. 

With little discussion, the motion carried on a unanimous vote. 

A landmark application is pending on the stadium itself, and the university’s plans for the Southeast Quadrant call for demolition of two historic structures, and significant alterations to another. It also poses significant impacts to the landmarked streetscape of Piedmont Avenue/Gayley Way, which was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, the designer of New York’s Central Park who is considered the father of American landscape architecture.