Landmarks Commission Reviews Biofuels Project

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday September 11, 2007

Terry Blount was introduced as the new secretary of the Berkeley Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) when the board met Thursday. 

Blount replaced former landmarks secretary Janet Homrighausen, who will be moving over to policy planning. 

A practicing planner for more than twelve years, Blount most recently worked for the city of West Hollywood as planner-in-charge of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission.  

He has also served as secretary to the commission and was in charge of overseeing the city’s historic preservation program. 

A member of the American Institute of Certified Planners, Blount holds a Master’s degree in planning from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and has undertaken numerous seminars, classes, and training sessions on historic preservation. 


Biofuels project 

The board reviewed the draft environmental impact report (EIR) for the proposed Biofuels Oasis project at 1441 Ashby Ave., which is scheduled to appear before the Zoning Adjustments Board next month. 

Located close to the Berkeley-Oakland city limit, the project proposes to restore the historic use of the site as a fueling station, with the only difference being that it would sell biodiesel instead of gasoline. 

Biofuels Oasis is a women-owned cooperative that now operates a biodiesel filling station on Fourth Street at Dwight Way and sells fuel made from recycled vegetable oil. 

The new station at Sacramento and Ashby would also sell “urban family supplies,” self-serve coffee and pre-packaged food.  

The current site houses a red-painted brick building with a pagoda-style tile roof. 

In order to accommodate vehicles up to 13 feet, the plan proposes to remove the existing fuel pump canopies and build taller canopies with solar panels, a move that most members on the LPC object to. 

The project was first referred to the LPC in June for advisory comments by the ZAB’s Design Review Committee since it is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. LPC members commented then that the heavy horizontal short beams which hold up the tiled canopy roofs were a “distinctive, desirable feature” which should be retained for new canopies. 

LPC members stressed the importance of saving the canopies once again at the meeting Thursday. 

“Raising the roofs drastically changes the proportions,” said LPC Chair Steven Winkle. “It changes the character.” 

“Solar is just not enough of an excuse for losing the feature,” LPC member Carrie Olson told the Planet. “I personally think they should go back to the drawing board and save the island caps somehow.” 

The project has also met with opposition from a group of South Berkeley residents, who say that the nature of the proposed business goes against the South Berkeley Plan’s policy of preservation of African American heritage and businesses in the neighborhood. 

The project threatens to shut down Kandy Mann’s Detail car wash—an African American business which currently operates on the site—because of the increased rent that the competition is offering the property owner. 

In order to convert the current site from a car wash to a fueling station, Biofuel Oasis will first have to obtain a use permit from the city. 


The Cambridge Apartments 

The board landmarked the Cambridge Apartments at 2500 Durant Ave.  

Designed by Berkeley architect Walter Ratcliff, Jr., in 1914, the five-story classical downtown building houses 48 apartments and four ground-floor storefronts. 

It was built for John Arthur Elston and George Clark, lawyers and business partners in the law firm of Elston, Clark, and Nichols. 

Although the building, situated in the Southside Campus neighborhood, was eventually occupied largely by students, a review of the 1916 directory revealed that the building’s tenants included attorneys, merchants, mining engineers, stenographers, clerks and teachers. 

The board praised LPC member Jill Korte’s presentation of the landmarks application and said that it should be made into a prototype for future applications. 


All Saints Chapel 

The board looked at plans to remove the rear portion of an existing seminary chapel at 2451 Ridge Road and construct a new assembly area. 

The Berkeley Zoning Ordinance requires any proposal to demolish a non-residential building which is over forty years to appear before the LPC. 

The proposed project is an Episcopal seminary located on “Holy Hill,” a cluster of religious schools located about one block north of the UC campus formally known as the Graduate Theological Union. 

Since the building doesn’t qualify as a historic resource under CEQA, staff recommended that the board discuss the proposal and give recommendations on the project. 

The board expressed confidence in the proposed additions based on excellent remodeling work done by the church in the recent past.