Elmwood Neighbors Unite Against Wright’s Garage Plan

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday March 23, 2007

A group of Elmwood neighbors will appeal the Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board’s (ZAB) approval of a restaurant, bar and additional unspecified businesses at 2629-2635 Ashby Ave. to the City Council. 

If the appeal is rejected, the group will boycott the proposed restaurant and  

consider suing the city, said Raymond  


The group, which is in the process of forming its own association, is angry that the ZAB ignored a petition with 375 signatures that was officially submitted to boardmembers before the March 8 hearing on the proposed project. 

“The petition was against the installation of a 5,000-square-foot restaurant in the proposed area, and bar, and other unspecified businesses. We think the Elmwood district is already extremely congested,” Barglow told the Planet on Wednesday. “The area already suffers from an intense traffic and difficult parking situation. A large-scale restaurant and bar would make the current situation worse and negatively impact residents and visitors to the neighborhood.” 

A current petition—opposing ZAB’s approval of the proposed project—states that the developer’s proposal violates Berkeley zoning law by: 

• exacerbating traffic, parking, health, and safety problems in the district. 

• violating the regulation governing alcohol consumption. 

• exceeding the official quota for restaurants in the Elmwood District. 

• violating California Environmental Act (CEQA) guidelines governing environmental impacts. 

• approving the application without knowing which kinds of businesses the developer will lease to. 

The petition can be viewed online at http://www.theelmwood.org/issues.htm. 

The city staff report to the ZAB states that the peak consumer parking for the Elmwood commercial district is during the day. 

The corner of Ashby and Benvenue was put on the city’s list of traffic hotspots because of the high number of accidents. 

Maureen Ewer, manager of the jewelry store Bill’s Trading Post, said that some of the merchants were hopeful that John Gordon—the developer of the proposed project—would provide parking during nights and weekends at the Huntmont Parking Garage. 

“More stores mean less parking for everyone,” she said. “Parking is a huge issue in the neighborhood. It’s not just the customers, people who work in the stores will need a place to park too.” 

Harry Tanielian, an employee of La Mediterranee on College Avenue, said that the restaurant has lost customers because they could not find parking. 

“Weekends are worse, but weekdays can be bad too. Parking really gets out of hand,” he said. “You go around the block ten times, and if you don’t find a place you give up.” 

Immediate neighbors, such as Louis Armstrong on Benvenue, have written to ZAB about emissions from the proposed restaurant’s cooking equipment. 

“My primary concern is the venting of kitchen exhaust via a fume hood to the roof adjacent to my house,” his letter states. 

A resident of Webster Street, told the Planet that although ZAB had stated that the developer’s proposal was automatically exempt from CEQA regulation, she felt this exemption was not warranted. 

“The planning department does not elaborate on this matter. But [the law] speaks only of ‘minor alteration.’ What Gordon did to the property was no ‘minor alteration.’ Something seems amiss here,” said Barglow. “They are not disclosing everything. I don’t even know if the entire development is going to be accessible to disabled people.” 

Tad Laird, owner of Elmwood Hardware, said that he was concerned about changes to the Elmwood. 

“I am concerned about the size and scale of the proposed project and the public process involving it,” he said. “I am concerned that individual developers have gotten away with skirting the ordinances.”  

Laird said he is troubled by the planned opening of an international clothing chain—Lululemon—in the building at the corner of College and Ashby.  

“That’s far from the kind of shopping our neighborhood is known for,” he said. “This sends a clear message about what kind of commercial development the city wants in our neighborhood.”