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Police Substation Expansion Requires Community Input, Says Zoning Board

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday August 15, 2006

The Zoning Adjustments Board on Thursday passed a motion to continue a use permit modification request for the South Berkeley Police Substation until the Police Department has met with community members in order to get their feedback on the plan. The change in use would allow expansion for employee lockers and vehicle storage.  

Board members asked that police and property owners address concerns about appropriate storefront usage and parking before the 1,472-square-foot space on 3192 Adeline St. could be converted into storage space. The building formerly housed the Nickelodeon Theater, an antique store and a jazz club. 

The site was chosen by the Police Department because of its central location and because it would offer a police presence in a high crime area. Representatives from the South Berkeley Police Substation told the board on Thursday that the South Berkeley business community found the current police operation valuable to the neighborhood, and said that the reorganization of city functions elsewhere and staffing changes had led to the requirement for additional floor area to accommodate staff and equipment. Although the Police Department and the Office of Economic Development pursued other locations in the area in 2002 to accommodate the need for additional space, negotiations for suitable alternate locations were unsuccessful, leading the city to consider an expansion of the existing facility. 

Under the current application, the South Berkeley Police Substation would be expanded into the former retail space to provide additional parking area for seven parking enforcement vehicles and an expanded employee locker room and bathroom.  

The building’s exterior would be modified to install five windows and a door, and the deteriorated wood siding would be repaired. The existing driveway from Fairview Street would also provide access to the new space. Vehicles would drive through 3194 Adeline to get to 3192. 

Board member Bob Allen pointed out that the increase in parking would lead to a major problem as there would be a shortage of space for the neighbors to park. There are currently only 16 parking spaces for the 34 employees at the substation, who will very soon be joined by five more employees.  

Board members also asked the substation to consider alternate transportation for employees, such as BART, which is located right across the street, but city staff said that parking space was decided not on the number of employees but on square footage of the property.  

Huck Rorick, one of the owners of the property, stressed that although crime still persists in the area, the police presence has proved beneficial for the community. He added that the remodeling would help to alter the poor appearance of the substation, especially with the addition of a facade. 

Sam Dyke, who spoke on behalf of the Adeline-Alcatraz Merchants’ Association, said that he disapproved of the pro-ject. “We should put something better there than storage and locker rooms. It’s a thriving area for business and the space could be put to commercial use,” he said.  

United We Stand and Deliver (UWSD) activist Martin Vargas echoed Dyke, saying that it is essential to bring commercial businesses to South Berkeley. “We need creativity as well as sensitivity in South Berkeley,” he said. 

Sinan Sabuncuoglu, owner of the Berkeley Design Center across Adeline, expressed disappointment in the city and the city’s planners . He said that the plan lacked detail, care and sensitivity, and called it a “monkey cage.” 

Board member Jesse Anthony agreed that the space needed to be used more creatively. “It bothers me that you were unable to find a renter who would use it as commercial space,” he told Rorick. “The city is renting it now and soon the Police Department will start renting it and the place will be an eyesore for the next five years,” he said. 

Allen said that since the Police Department was a positive presence in the neighborhood they should allow the public to see them inside the building in order to make their presence felt.  

“The storefront needs to look like a storefront. It should not look like a garage, which would do nothing to help the commercial nature of the area,” said ZAB vice-chair Dave Blake. 

The board agreed that the Police Department either needed to get more officers on the street, open up the windows so that people could see the officers inside or use the empty space in a way that would attract people to the area. 

The Police Department and the building owners were asked to get together with the neighbors in order to decide what would suit the community’s needs best and then come back with a report to the Sept. 14 ZAB meeting. Both parties agreed. 

In other matters, the board approved a use permit for applicant Iqbal Abdul Rahman Shah of 1187 Delaware St. to legalize construction that vertically extended existing, non-conforming front and side yard setbacks and brought an end to a dispute between Mr. Shah and his neighbors Michael Fretz and Elizabeth Buchanan of 1191 Delaware, who had expressed concern about the city’s process for correcting and enforcing compliance for theconstruction that occurred at the property without a permit. 

Board member Jesse Anthony said that both buildings had been violating building codes. “It makes no sense for this issue to come up at the meeting in the first place. Since both houses were built almost a hundred years ago, they both need code changes,” he said. 

The board agreed on the project construction as long as the windows on the west side that serve the lower story comply with the fire rating standards of the Uniform Building Code. 

On the consent calendar, the board approved a use permit for 1801 Shattuck Ave., which would allow the owners to convert three retail lease spaces in order to allow a range of two to six lease spaces among other things. Use permits for 157 and 161 Vicente Road were continued without discussion.  

The board also approved a use permit for establishing a full-service 48-seat restaurant with incidental service of beer and wine in an existing building which has no off-street parking at 2502 Telegraph Ave., and allowed the demolition of three small industrial buildings in order to facilitate the removal of contaminated soils and groundwater on the Flint Ink property on 1350 Fourth St. 

The board also decided to postpone a decision on 1490 Glendale Ave., advising the property’s owners that that the proposed 2,500-square-foot, four-bedroom requires more than one parking space. A decision on a major addition to a residential property on 704 Keeler Ave. was also postponed.