Residents Appeal Mixed-Use Development on San Pablo

By Suzanne La Barre
Tuesday July 18, 2006

A dozen residents have appealed plans for a five-story, mixed-use building on San Pablo Avenue, a project once described by a neighbor as “bursting at the seams.” 

The project, a 29,665-square-foot residential and commercial structure at 1201 San Pablo Ave., at Harrison Street, won the approval of the Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) in April, despite pleas from residents, who complain the building is out-of-scale with the rest of the neighborhood.  

“It’s just too big for the lot they want to put it on and too big to be immediately adjacent to this residential neighborhood of small homes,” said Erika Lamm, a neighbor. 

The proposed location, a vacant lot formerly used to sell Christmas trees, borders an autoshop, apartments, and one- and two-story residential properties. The site is zoned for commercial use. 

Some say the project will open the floodgates for developers to build additional multistory structures along San Pablo. The closest mixed-use development, currently under construction at 1406 San Pablo, is three stories tall. 

“It’s the first project of this size on San Pablo,” said Prakash Pinto, a neighbor and architect by profession. “This is going to be setting a precedent for future buildings.” 

Pinto said he does not oppose development at the site but would prefer that the developer erect a four-story building.  

Developer Jim Hart, who has constructed several work/live spaces in Berkeley, says a smaller structure isn’t financially feasible. 

“It had been suggested to me by others in the development community that you always go into a city with a bigger project than you intend to build, so neighbors feel like they won something,” he said Monday. “But we went in in a more straightforward way. We weren’t going to make a mega building in the first place. If we’re going to have smart growth and create friendly retail space, it seems to me this is in keeping with that sort of projection.”  

Neighbors filed the appeal May 1 on technical grounds related to state density bonus law, inclusionary units, setbacks and traffic reporting. 

Planning staff maintain the feasibility of the project and have recommended that the City Council uphold ZAB’s decision. 

The Berkeley City Council is scheduled to hear the appeal tonight (Tuesday). The council meets at 7 p.m., at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way.