Zoning Board to Approve Controversial Blood House Project

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday October 09, 2007

Berkeley developers Ruegg & Ellsworth will ask the city zoning board for a permit to construct a 34,158-square-foot, five-story building with 44 apartments, 18 parking spaces and retail space at 2526 Durant Ave. after moving the historic Blood House from the site to 2508 Regent St. 

The project proposal was first submitted to the planning department in 2000 and has since gone through several modifications, the most recent being the proposed removal of the entire structure to make room for mixed-use development. 

Under CEQA, moving a structure designated as a historic resource is supposed to be considered as a significant impact equivalent to demolishing it. 

Originally constructed as a single-family home, the modified 1891 Queen Anne style building has been altered throughout its history and is now used as an office building. 

Designed by architect Robert Gray Frise, the house was built for Mrs. Ellen Blood, who first came to Berkeley in 1889. It is flanked by two other landmarks—the Albra and the Brasfield buildings. 

Although it was built for residential use, the building was illegally converted to commercial use in the late 1980s. 

The units in the house were previously rent-controlled, but it is not clear whether relocating the house would affect their rent control status. 

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

The zoning board had previously denied the demolition of the historically designated structure and had wanted the developers to explore other alternatives which would help preserve it. 

The Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association suggested as a compromise a 40-unit project which would retain the house on the site. The concept was approved by ZAB but has since been abandoned by the developers. 

Ruegg & Ellsworth presented the idea of relocating the Blood House to an empty lot at Regent Street and Dwight Way owned by developer John Gordon at a May 2004 ZAB meeting. 

According to a January 2007 addendum to the project’s environmental impact report, because “the residential character of Durant Avenue has been considerably altered, moving the building to another more residential location could mitigate to a less-than-significant level impacts to this historic resource.” 

If the proposal is approved, the house would be lifted from its first floor, using floor joists with steel beams, and lowered onto a trailer which would proceed north to Durant Avenue. After arriving at its location, it would be placed on blocks while the foundation and utility wirings were installed. 

The relocation would take place on a Sunday and local traffic would be detoured to alternative routes briefly. 

Plans to move the UC Berkeley-owned landmarked John Woolley House, at 2509 Haste St., to the same empty Regent Street lot to allow Ken Sarachan to build on the site, which is adjacent to another site he owns at the corner of Haste and Telegraph, are also being explored.