Neighbors Blast Plans for Garr Building Site

By Richard Brenneman
Tuesday August 08, 2006

Artists living in one of the city’s last West Berkeley creative havens said they fear impacts of a planned new building at 740 Heinz Ave. could end their idyll. 

They raised their concerns Thursday night to the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) in comments before developers offered a first look at their latest plans for the site. 

Wareham Development, West Berkeley’s premier developer of office and laboratory space, has plans to turn the landmarked Garr Building into the shell of a major office/lab complex. 

The resulting structure would soar 30 feet above the current 45-foot West Berkeley height limit, said Darrell de Tienne, a San Franciscan who has represented Wareham and other firms developing projects in Berkeley. 

Chris Barlow, a partner in Wareham, said rising construction costs make the increased size essential for the project’s economic viability. 

Because the Garr Building now located on the site is a city landmark, project engineer Steve Tipping devised a way to preserve three of the existing unreinforced masonry walls as a shell for the larger building, which would be constructed partially inside them and end on further to the east. 

It is that extension that worries the artists who live at 800 Heinz Ave. in the old Durkee Building, another Wareham building that was preserved as part of a compromise to allow development on the other parts of the landmarked complex. 

Spacious units in the Durkee Building are rented to artists at reduced rents, averaging between $700 and $900. Many of the tenants are painters, who say they rely on natural light for their work. 

The plans shown the LPC would bring the edge of the building much closer to 800 Heinz. 

“What they’re planning is larger than anything in the area. I’m afraid we’ll lose our light,” said Corliss Lesser. “I can’t understand why it has to be so huge.” 

“We’re all afraid of losing the light for our studios,” said Betsey Strange, another 740 Heinz painter. “I also oppose it because of its size ands scale,” she said, and worried about the additional traffic and parking problems the new building would bring, as well as the noise and dust that would accompany construction. 

Strange noted that two other projects are planned in adjacent blocks, the Ashby Lofts and the new Berkeley Bowl, and said she worried about the cumulative impacts not only on the artists at 740 Heinz but also students at four nearby schools. 

“It’s just too big,” said Georgia Shea, another artist, “and it is just 100 feet from our building. . .It’s just not reasonable for the size of the height.” 

“A lot of the objections raised by adjacent residents are not our concern,” said LPC member Steven Winkel, an architect, “but I have concerns about the height” and its impact on nearby historic buildings. “It’s perhaps one story too tall,” he said. 

“We actually say the height is taller than what is allowed for buildings in this area,” said Commissioner Jill Korte. 

“You’re asking for a 28-foot height variance?” asked LPC member Carrie Olson. 

“The height and scale of the building are out of character with the already gigantic Garr Building,” said member Lesley Emmington. 

“It’s disproportionate to the size of the existing building,” said LPC member and architect Burton Edwards, who asked the developers to show the commission an inexpensive three-dimensional building model. 

Commissioners also indicated that the design they were shown was out of harmony with the existing building. 


Other business  

Commissioners added two new landmarks to the city’s roster of historically significant buildings, 1770 La Loma Ave. and 2411 Fifth St. 

The former Phi Kappa Psi Chapter House, the La Loma Avenue structure was built in 1901 as UC Berkeley’s second fraternity house. Commissioners voted unanimously to approve an application by Daniella Thompson to designate the structure Berkeley’s Landmark #290. 

The aging brown shingle structure is in poor repair, and Thompson said the new owner, a San Francisco realty firm, is apparently conducting renovations without a building permit. 

The vote to designate the Martin House on Fifth Street was 7-2, with commissioners Fran Packard and Steven Winkel opposing the application signed by 62 neighbors to designate the 1892 Queen Anne cottage a structure of merit. 

Owner Laura Fletcher objected to the landmarking, which was initiated after neighbors learned she was attempting to sell the property for demolition as the site of a new six-unit residential building. 

Neighbor Cathleen Quandt, the author of the initiation petition, was joined by seven other current and former residents who testified in favor of designating a structure—the second oldest on the block—they said was essentially for maintaining the character of their neighborhood. 

Commissioners delayed acting on Gale Garcia’s petition to landmark Iceland, acting on a request of the owners’ attorney, Rena Rickles, who said they were engaged in negotiations with the city on a way to keep the venerable skating rink open. 

The LPC will take up the issue again on Nov. 2. 

City officials have demanded replacement of the rink’s ammonia-based cooling system on the grounds that an accidental release of the hazardous compound could endanger nearby residents. 

Commissioners offered no objections to a request by developers Hudson McDonald LLC to demolish the Drayage Building at 651 Addison St. The structure houses a collection of illegal live/work spaces built by artist and crafts makers until they were evicted by city officials earlier this year.