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Lack of Parking Prevents Approval Of Fidelity Building Remodel Project

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday July 31, 2007

The restaurant remodel and mixed-use development of the historic Fidelity Bank Building on Shattuck Avenue was postponed by the Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) Thursday to investigate ways to alleviate the project’s loss of parking. 

While the board agreed that they were in favor of the proposed preservation and reuse of this historic structure at 2323 Shattuck Ave., they voted 5-2 to request the city manager to look into instituting a fee to offset the project’s elimination of eight parking spots. The fee would be applied toward creating more downtown parking. 

Architect Jim Novosel has proposed a project which would preserve the existing 4,000-square-foot structure and convert the two-story bank space into a restaurant and a dwelling unit. 

The project includes a new five-story building, to be built in place of the existing three-story building adjacent to the Fidelity Building, which would have 2,609 square feet of commercial floor area and 15 dwelling units. The permit request includes beer and wine services at the restaurant and sidewalk cafe seating. 

The proposal, already approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, would keep the exterior of the Fidelity building intact. 

Located between the Mechanics Bank and the Union Bank on Shattuck Avenue, the Fidelity Bank Building was designed by architect Walter Ratcliff in 1925. 

It was last occupied by Citibank Corporation but now sits empty. In recent years, it has been used as a venue for the Berkeley Arts Festival. 

“We are thrilled to be doing this building,” Novosel told the board Thursday. 

“It’s going to be saved in its entirety when we could have demolished everything except for the facade.” 

“Parking is the main issue in the project,” zoning staff told board members.  

“We support the concept of the proposed mixed-use infill nature of the project, but we cannot recommend approval of this project due to the proposal to eliminate on-site parking, which requires a variance.” 

Novosel proposes to remove all of the eight existing on-site spaces without providing any new parking based on the explanation that the additional costs to provide onsite spaces would reduce the project’s economic viability. 

Novosel also contends that the downtown location of the project site made preservation of the existing on-site parking lot and driveway inappropriate.  

“One of the principles of the Downtown Area Planning Committee (DAPAC) is mixed-used development that would result in the restoration of the downtown,” said ZAB board member Jesse Arreguin. “This project meets some of those goals. It’s taking a beautiful building and turning it into something that will help Shattuck Avenue. I am personally happy with the decrease of residential parking spaces and the increase in commercial parking. But car share opportunities and transit passes should be offered.” 

The current zoning ordinance strictly prohibits new developments from removing existing on-site parking spaces. 

Rauly Butler, senior vice president of Mechanics Bank, opposed the project at the hearing. 

“I am very pro-development in downtown,” he said. “I like the fact that housing will go in. But the parking is ridiculously low. It all comes down to public benefit.” 

In a letter to ZAB, Butler stated that “alternatives had not been explored in good faith” and that the project density was designed for income and not public benefit. 

“This lack of effort to explore workable alternatives clearly indicates a single focus on the part of the developer and does not warrant the granting of variances as a result.” 

Maurice Segerberg, who operated a retail bicycle store at 2301 Shattuck Ave. for 40 years, expressed concerns about parking and called the project an “eyesore” in his letter to the ZAB.  

“Not only does this project provide no additional parking, it eliminates eight existing off-street parking spots. Eight spots may not seem like a lot but consider that each spot may have from five to 10 hits a day. That could mean as many as 80 individual consumer usages a day.” 

Novosel told board members that the restaurant would provide valet parking for its customers and arrange for 10 parking spaces in one of the two parking lots in the neighborhood. 

“The property owner will also buy transit passes and membership in ride share programs for its residents,” he said.  

“In order for that to happen, would you have leases that said residents cannot have cars?” board member Sara Shumer asked. 

“The loss of parking is critical,” said board member Terry Doran. “These eight spaces are used by people who are doing business in the area, going to Venus restaurant and the banks.” 

Boardmember Bob Allen spoke in favor of approving the project without the parking spaces. 

“This board blew off a hundred parking spaces at the Brower Center,” he said. “And we are sitting here worrying about eight parking spaces. None of the mixed-use developments and theaters on Shattuck provides parking. If we don’t allow this project without parking, we are going to lose a really good building without the facade.” 

Board vice-chair Rick Judd echoed his thoughts. 

“Eight parking spaces won’t make or break downtown,” he said. “But we do need parking downtown. As a city we need to get off our butts and do something about the parking fee ... We could ask the city manager to report back to us what it would take to collect an annual fee from this project. We should convey to them that we do want to approve this project but we are struggling badly.” 

The hearing was continued to Aug. 9.