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Council Takes Another Look at Berkeley Iceland Landmark Status

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday July 17, 2007

If the City Council decides to uphold a commission designation of Berkeley Iceland as a landmark, it could put a crimp in development plans for a housing/childcare project, while breathing new life into the plans of a nonprofit corporation to re-open the now-shuttered 68-year- old ice skating rink. 

The council will address the Iceland issue at a special 6 p.m. meeting tonight (Tuesday) to be followed by its regular 7 p.m. meeting, the last full council meeting—a brief meeting is slated for July 31—before a lengthy summer break, scheduled to end Sept. 10.  

In addition to Iceland, the city will consider public comment rules and an audit of the city’s asset forfeiture accounts (see accompanying stories), closing down the B-Town Dollar Store on Sacramento Street because of alleged drug activity there, addressing the zoning board’s approval of a new single-family house on Panoramic Way and more. 


Ice Rink as Landmark? 

The nonprofit organization that hopes to save the property at Derby and Milvia streets for use as an ice skating rink is trying to raise the $2 million they say they need to buy the site from the current owner and previous manager, East Bay Iceland. 

East Bay Iceland, however, has entered into a preliminary agreement with developer Ali Kashani, president of Memar Properties, Inc., who hopes to turn the real estate into townhouses and a child care center. Kashani has an agreement with the YMCA, which wants to consolidate various Y-run Head Start Centers at the facility. 

State law allows developers that include child care facilities at their projects to add units to their development (a “density bonus”) above limits imposed by local zoning laws. Berkeley has yet to take advantage of this law, according to Planning Commissioner Gene Poschman. 

The Landmark Preservation Commission designated the walls around the entire 1939 building as historic, which means that a developer who wants to demolish all or part of the building will have to go through a thorough review process at the LPC before alterations are approved or a demolition can be approved by the Zoning Adjustment Board. 

Proponents of saving the ice rink hope landmarking the facility will discourage development of anything but an ice rink. 

Caroline Winnett, among those working to save the ice rink, says supporters should not be discouraged. “Now is the time to donate and to pressure the council,” she said. The group is continuing in its efforts to raise $2 million for the facility’s purchase, although they are legally unable at present to negotiate with East Bay Iceland, due to its preliminary agreement with Kashani.  


B-town may go down 

The Zoning Board says that B-Town Dollars and More Disc, at 2973 Sacramento St., is a public nuisance due to drug dealing in and around the store and should be shut down. 

“B-Town has been a significant location of drug dealing for several years … the operator … has knowingly permitted it to be used as such,” says a staff report that alleges that the store operator and his managers have never called police for help to curb the problem. 

The property is owned by the Chul J. Kim family, managed by Joo H. Kim, a San Francisco police officer, and operated by Nayef Ayesh. The operator and his attorney say, according to zoning board staff reports, that “B-Town has no responsibility for what happens outside the store. Rather it is the responsibility of the Police Department to eliminate drug dealing….” 

However, the zoning board responded that “a business is responsible for problems on the sidewalk and adjoining public areas.” 


Other public hearings 

The council will hold three other public hearings: 

• On the Telegraph Avenue Business Improvement District (BID) and on the North Shattuck BID. The BIDs are renewed unless more than 50 percent of the members protest by mail or at the council meeting; 

• On the zoning board’s approval of the construction of a home on Panoramic Way. Neighbors of the proposed home say that construction will cause closure of the narrow street, presenting a danger in case there is a need for emergency vehicle access, and that the property owner presented the zoning board with inaccurate plans. The zoning board, however, approved the 1,460 square-foot house with conditions, including that it have sprinklers for fire safety and protection for a live oak tree in the public right of way. 

The City Council will also address: 

• Allocating $25,000, already approved, to Sweatfree Berkeley, to support the formation of a consortium of government entities, which would research and monitor where products are made that cities buy, so that cities avoid the purchase of products made under sweatshop conditions. If the council approves this item, the funds will be released only when at least one other governmental entity contributes an equal or greater sum; 

• Condemning Waste Management’s lockout of its employees; 

• A pilot program to double parking fines in certain areas on UC Berkeley football days; 

• Installing speed cushions as a test. They would be an alternative to “speed humps” which cause pain to people with certain health conditions and cause damage to fire equipment. The speed cushions are traffic-calming devices designed as several small speed humps, three inches thick, made of prefabricated rubber. They would be placed in such a way that emergency vehicles with wider axles could straddle the cushions;  

• The cost of establishing “quiet zones” at railroad crossings. “With the expansion of the Port of Oakland and steadily increasing train traffic, residents in West Berkeley are frequently awakened by long and sharp whistle blowing all during the night,” says a staff report written by Councilmember Linda Maio. The item calls for the city to work with Emeryville to get a sense of the cost involved in establishing zones where a train is prohibited from blowing its whistle. Other safety measures are put in place where quiet zones are designated. 




For more on the subject of Iceland see Randy Shaw in today's Beyond Chron: