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LeConte Neighbors Oppose UC Student Dorm Project

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday July 17, 2007

The Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) set the appeal of an administrative use permit to construct an addition to a one-story, two-unit building at 2516 Ellsworth St. for a public hearing Thursday. 

A group of LeConte neighbors are worried that the proposed building, which will be converted into a dorm for UC Berkeley students by Oakland-based William Coburn Architects, will create noise, shadow, privacy and traffic impacts on the neighborhood. 

The architects propose to construct a 2,974-square-foot addition to an existing 903-square-foot, one-story, two-unit building by expanding the footprint towards the rear yard and raising the existing house approximately 10 feet. As a result of the addition, the building units would increase from two to 14. 

ZAB approved the project on Feb. 6 because of its consistency with the zoning ordinance and the development standards of the district.  

The current building exists right on the border of a higher-density and a lower-density residential zone in a neighborhood comprised predominantly of duplexes and apartment buildings. 

According to the appellants, the proposed development was “too dense” and should be zoned as a medium density residential building because of its proximity to that district. 

The appellants also contend that the project would increase parking demand without providing any additional off-street parking, and they are against the issuance of residential parking permits to its occupants. 

Michael Walensky, who lives around the corner from the proposed project, complained about its negative effects in a letter to ZAB. 

“I bought my condo in 1995,” he said. “At that time things were relatively tranquil in this neighborhood, but in the past few years the quality of life has deteriorated dramatically.” 

Walensky said the level of noise caused by students in nearby apartments having loud parties has become so bad that he frequently calls the police to complain. 

“Students seem to have no notion that many of us in this neighborhood are homeowners who work for a living and have to sleep.” 

In a letter to ZAB, the LeConte Neighborhood Association said that the “massive residential expansion” would prove to be a detriment to the neighborhood because of inappropriate density, “which would exacerbate existing noise and parking problems in the area.” 

Staff maintains that the project is compatible with the size, density and scale of the neighborhood. 


1819 Fifth St. 

The zoning board discussed the 1819 Fifth St. Pads Projects Thursday. 

Architect Timothy Rempel and his wife Liz Miranda have requested a permit to construct a mixed-use project which involves renovation and modification of an existing building at 1819 Fifth St., with four live-work units, 10 residential condominium units, 11 commercial units (7,298 square feet), 27 parking spaces and a new four-story construction. 

Area residents have described the  

project as a “looming monstrosity” and vociferously opposed it, citing shadow, height and traffic concerns. A petition, signed by 15 neighbors, was also submitted to ZAB Thursday. It stated, among other things, that the proposed building would be out of character with the rest of the neighborhood. 

The property, which is located in West Berkeley, on Fifth Street between Hearst Avenue and Delaware Street, was acquired by Rempel for two and a half million dollars in July. Although the existing brick building is not a landmark structure, the site is located south of the Delaware Historic District. 

Rempel asked for a variance modification to add a 4th floor, which is not otherwise allowed in the district. 

“Our neighborhood is mostly comprised of one- or two-story houses,” said Nick Lawrence, who has lived at 835 Delaware St. for almost 21 years. “There is nothing else that compares to the mass and size of the proposed building. The ZAB should not be concerned with whether they will make a profit but with whether it is good for the neighborhood.” 

Owen Maercks, owner of East Bay Vivarium at 1827 Fifth St., which houses up to 30,000 animals at any given time, said that the project would drive his business out of the city. 

“He is asking for 27 parking spaces for 25 units,” he said. “So little parking for such a massive structure. We are already having parking wars in the neighborhood. Nobody will come there to shop anymore.” 

Maercks also expressed concern that the building’s shadow would prevent his reptiles from sunning outside.  

“We won’t be blocking the sun,” Rempel answered. “There are many three storied buildings in the immediate vicinity.” The Delaware Homeowners Association spoke in favor of the development. 

Board member Bob Allen said that ZAB did not have the ability to grant Rempel the variance for the 4th floor. 

“I think it’s too frivolous a reason to just say that we want to make it look better,” he said. “You have to make it more convincing. This building will not do anything but add parking to the street. I admire the design but am not particularly comfortable that the color schemes and the materials don’t match with that of the neighborhood.” 

Board vice chair Rick Judd said that there were a lot of alternatives for the proposed project that hadn’t been looked at. 

“Three stories needs to be explored,” said board member Jesse Arreguin. “It’s clear that there are no four-story buildings in the area. It’s clear that there are parking violations.”