Zoning Board Approves Fidelity Bank Building Plan

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday August 14, 2007

Hearing on Blood House Postponed 


The Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) gave the historic Fidelity Building on Shattuck Avenue a new lease on life Thursday when they approved a project there in spite of its parking deficit. 

The board voted 5-3 to grant applicants Prasad and Rani Lakireddy a use permit to 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 at 2323 Shattuck Ave., which would have 2,609 square feet of commercial floor area and 15 dwelling units. The project proposes to have sidewalk seating and eliminate the eight existing on-site parking spots. 

The board also directed staff to come back with findings that would support their decision.  

“One of the findings should be that it’s not possible to replace the parking spaces on site and restore the historic building,” said commissioner Bob Allen. “The vast majority of retail and residential buildings on Shattuck Avenue don’t provide parking.” 

The project as proposed violates the zoning ordinance, which states that new developments are forbidden from removing existing parking. 

The board also voted unanimously to ask the City Council to amend the current zoning ordinance and to explore the possibility of an in-lieu fee for future projects which would be applied toward creating more downtown parking. 

Although the majority of the board members were in favor of the proposed preservation and reuse of the historic building, they faced some stiff opposition.  

Matthew Mitchell, who was substituting for board member Michael Alvarez Cohen as Councilmember Gordon Wozniak’s appointee, said that the developer should provide seven off-site parking spaces. 

“We need to make sure that we don’t lose sight of a very good proposal here,” said Allen.  

“The city attorney makes it clear that an in-lieu fee does not provide the basis to support the variance. While I support the concept of downtown parking and a fee to increase parking, it’s really not our role to pick out one project and say we start from here.” 

ZAB Secretary Debbie Sanderson said that the board was on a very slippery slope.  

“The ordinance is very clear,” she said. “Our objective is to enforce the ordinance as it is written.” 

“How do you justify losing hundreds of parking spaces for the Brower Center?” Allen asked Sanderson. 

“We did lose hundreds of cars on those two projects but that project was challenged, appealed and went through extreme scrutiny from the city attorney before it was approved,” Sanderson replied. 

Commissioner Sara Shumer said that it was possible to mitigate the parking problem by proposing alternatives. 

“We find the project attractive but that is not grounds for approving it,” she said.  

“Alternate resources such as transit passes for residents, nine off-site parking spaces and valet parking should be considered.” 

Shumer’s suggestions were approved by the board. 

“Yes, we would reduce the existing parking,” said commissioner Jesse Arreguin, “but the mitigations are reasonable and would make up for the loss of parking and allow people to use alternate forms of transportation.” 

Tim Perry, who was substituting for vice-chair Rick Judd, called the mitigations a poor way of handling the parking policy. 

“The only way to change these things is to pressure the council,” said board chair Christiana Tiedemann. 


The Blood House 

The board voted unanimously to continue the hearing for the proposed removal of the historic Blood House from 2526 Durant Ave. to make room for mixed-use development. 

Berkeley developers Ruegg and Ellsworth have requested a permit to construct a 34,158-square-foot, five-story building with 44 apartments, 18 parking spaces and retail space after moving the historic structure to a different lot. 

Built in 1891 for Mrs. Ellen Blood by architect Robert Gray Frise, this stately Victorian near Telegraph Avenue is flanked by two landmarks—the Albra and the Brasfield buildings—on each side. 

The Blood House itself was declared a structure of merit by the Berkeley Landmarks Preservation Commission in September 1999. Ruegg and Ellsworth’s appeal of the designation failed at the City Council a month later. 

Unable to make the findings necessary to approve the demolition of the historically designated structure in 2005, the zoning board directed the developers to explore other alternatives which would help preserve the landmark structure. 

At a Dec. 8, 2005 ZAB meeting, staff was directed to prepare an addendum to the certified environmental impact report (EIR) for the Blood House in order to come up with the required findings. According to staff, the addendum to the EIR, which will be presented to the ZAB at the September 10 meeting, meets CEQA requirements.  

Under CEQA, moving a structure designated as a historic resource is equivalent to demolishing it. 

After reviewing the addendum, the board will direct the staff about whether or not they should go ahead with the building proposal.