Page One

Developer Proposes Emeryville Transit Center

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday March 13, 2007

Fix Moldy Condos First, Say Residents 


The 11-story-or-so train-bus connector, parking, retail, laboratory structure Wareham Development wants to build next to the Horton Street train station in the heart of Emeryville, will be “enveloped in green ivy” on part of its exterior, and in the evening the lighting coming from the building will cast a “soft glow through the leaves,” Wareham CEO Rich Robbins told some 50 people gathered for a community meeting in Emeryville Thursday evening. 

While some in the audience had nothing but praise for the developer who promised “green” construction and solar electricity for the project, many in attendance called on Robbins to first fix an earlier project on the 5800-5900 block of Horton Street, one that contains about 20 mold-growing condos their owners have not lived in since 2003.  


West Berkeleyan fears Emeryvillization 

Meanwhile at Wareham’s latest West Berkeley venture, the seven-story structure at 2600 Tenth St. known to many as the Fantasy Building, some tenants—mostly independent filmmakers—have signed leases that raise their rents 20 to 100 percent.  

Others have not and are looking with trepidation at the “Emeryvillization” of West Berkeley—the proliferation of labs and high rents that have forced artists out—and the looming April 1 date when tenants must decide to either sign the leases or leave the building, according to documentary filmmaker Alan Snitow, a tenant in the building.  

Minimally, the developer needs to give the artists time to decide whether they can pay the higher rents or if they have to move, Snitow said, arguing that the rents in the building are already market rate and that the city needs to step in to support the artists. 

After the Emeryville meeting, Robbins addressed the Planet’s questions about rent hikes at the Fantasy Building, explaining that they kick in over a period of two-to-three years and are necessary because of the upgrades he is doing at the building. 

Further, Robbins denied that he is considering developing a building that would incorporate nanotechnology uses, something asserted by more than one reliable city insider. The city has no permits on record that would indicate this kind of development is planned. 

At the Emeryville meeting, Robbins, his architect William L. Diefenbach of the SmithGroup and Emeryville’s Community Economic Development Coordinator Ignacio Dayrit spoke. Dayrit’s role was to address the $10-$12 million job necessary to address toxics—PCBs, benzene, methane, lead and more—contained in the ground beneath the project site and the city’s role in helping with the remediation effort.  

Then it was the community’s turn to weigh in on the project. (As Councilmember John Fricke explains it, community meetings such as this one are a mandatory step that precedes a development being formally addressed at the city’s Planning Commission.) 

First to be called upon was Betty Burri, the owner of a condominium at The Terraces, a 101-unit condominium development.  

“My condominium has mold. Wareham built a bad building and hasn’t fixed it,” said Burri. She and 19 other families have been displaced. Some are staying at the Woodfin Suites Hotel and others have been “temporarily” relocated elsewhere, most since 2003. Wareham’s insurance company pays Burri’s hotel bill and she pays the mortgage on the condo and homeowner fees.  

In a phone interview on Friday, Burri told the Planet that the problems started with leaking windows and then the mold set in. It affected about 25 units, and cannot be corrected by simply replacing the windows, she said. The Homeowner Association has sued the developer. The matter is in negotiation. 

Addressing the structure Wareham was proposing at the meeting, Burri said, “I wonder what will happen to the building in five or 10 years.” 

Another Terrace resident added: “I don’t think you should build anything until Terraces is fixed.”  

Robbins said that since the issue is in litigation, he was unable to discuss it. With him, however, were two attorneys, whom he pointed out, who he said would talk to anyone who wished.  

Calling The Terraces “a blemish” on his 30-year record as a developer, Robbins said, “Wareham takes complete responsibility,” and promised: “We’ll stay on course and get it done.”  

A couple of people sitting in the front row had nothing but praise for the developer, but many asked him to consider problems the new building could cause: additional traffic Emeryville residents would have to contend with and inadequate parking. 


Building over height limit 

In a phone interview Sunday evening, Fricke said a particular concern was the height of the building: 169 feet in an area zoned for 55 feet, with the possibility of the developer adding two floors when a public benefit to a project is added. 

“It’s an issue of fairness and uniformity,” Fricke said, noting the buildings near the project are 80-90 feet high.  

“If they want [the area zoned at] 170 feet, we should have that debate,” Fricke said.