ZAB to Hold Public Hearing on 700 University Ave. Project

By Suzanne La Barre
Tuesday June 20, 2006

The Zoning Adjustments Board is set to consider a mixed-use development project on the two-acre site at 700 University Ave. Thursday. 

The project would involve the construction of two residential structures, complete with retail space and parking, and would include the restoration of a historic railroad station. Two existing buildings which house Brennan’s Irish Pub and Celia’s Restaurant would be demolished, and Brennan’s 

could relocate to the train station. On Thursday, the public is invited to comment on a draft environmental impact report (DEIR) for the development. 

The proposed project would be bounded by Addison and Fourth streets and the Union Pacific Railroad to the west. Surrounding land uses include a parking lot, offices, a sake factory, a discount grocery store and a yet-to-be-complete mixed-use project. The vacant historic train station building, the Southern Pacific Railroad Station, was most recently Xanadu Restaurant. 

The larger of the two proposed edifices, the North Building, would feature 60 dwelling units, 7,335 square feet of retail space and a 19,385-square-foot parking garage and would stand 55-feet high. The area is zoned such that buildings over 50 feet must obtain a variance. 

The smaller South Building would feature 113 units, a 1,720-square-foot fitness and leasing area, and below-grade parking. It would stand 45 feet tall. 

Units would be “for sale” condominiums with either one bedroom or two bedrooms.  

Daniel Deibel of the Urban Housing Group, a San Mateo company that specializes in infill apartment housing communities, is the developer for 700 University Ave. He could not be reached for comment by press time. 

According to the DEIR, the project would cause significant and unavoidable impacts, namely, that traffic at two key intersections would increase. Other potential impacts on air and water quality, noise and transportation could occur. 

Some residents have expressed additional concerns. 

“I think it should be smaller,” said Stephanie Manning, who lives a block from the proposed development. “It’s just too big for this neighborhood.” 

Manning is also concerned about parking. Though the project meets the city’s standards for the amount of parking developers must provide per residential unit, Manning thinks it doesn’t suffice. “It’s already very difficult to park,” she said. 

For Berkeley resident Gale Garcia, one of the project’s greatest drawbacks is that it spells the end for the Brennan’s and Celia’s structures, built in 1959 and 1946 respectively. Last year, Garcia unsuccessfully attempted to secure landmark status for each building. (The Landmarks Preservation Commission designated Celia’s a structure of merit, but the City Council later countermanded that decision.)  

“They’re our meeting places, they’re locally owned small businesses,” Garcia said. “They have history and people care about them.”  

Some have called into question the assumption that Brennan’s will relocate to the railroad station, as the DEIR indicates it will. Margaret Wade, daughter of founder John Brennan, was reached at the restaurant Monday, but refused to comment. 

The review period for the DEIR ends June 26. 

Also on the ZAB agenda Thursday are two other University Avenue projects:  

• The board will continue a hearing on 1865 University Ave., where Toyota of Berkeley hopes to operate an automobile sales and service facility. 

• The board will take public comment on a mixed-use development proposal at 1885 University Ave., which includes retail space for a Trader Joe’s, 148 residential units and a two-level parking garage. 

The Zoning Adjustments Board meets Thursday at 7 p.m., in City Council Chambers, at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way.