LeConte Neighbors Protest Proposed Project

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday October 30, 2007

A group of LeConte neighbors turned up at the Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) meeting Thursday to protest a proposed three-story second unit at 2837 Fulton St. that, they said, was out of character with the neighborhood and would have visual and shadow impacts on the adjacent LeConte Elementary schoolyard. 

The board voted 8-1 to approve the proposed building, whose owners said they would be planting large trees to screen the building from the rest of the neighborhood. The proposed development would be located at the rear end of the lot along with an existing single-family dwelling unit. 

Some LeConte parents said that the proposed building would adversely affect the appeal and quality of education at the school, whose yard was the only park in the neighborhood. 

They contended that keeping density low adjacent to elementary schools was important to the success of a public school system. 

“A three-story accessory building does not exist in the neighborhood, and this would defy that historical trend and create a precedent to future builds,” said LeConte resident Mark Leverette. 

LeConte parent Susie Bluestone said that LeConte parents found it strange that the Berkeley Unified School District had not objected to the building’s height. 

“Would a three-story structure be something you would allow at Emerson or Thousand Oaks?” she asked. “LeConte wants the respect other schools get.” 

The LeConte Neighborhood Association voted against the proposed project- stating that it would tower over all the other houses in the neighborhood and add to inadequate off-street parking. 

“I met with Superintendent Michele Lawrence, and she didn’t express any concerns about impact on students,” said board member Terry Doran. “On the other hand, I am concerned that there might be complaints from the residents of the building about noise from the students.” 

“It’s just noise,” said Paul Toan, the owner. “It’s been great living next to the school and the playground and I don’t think we will have a problem.” 

Board member Jesse Arreguin voted against the project since Toan had not seriously considered a two-story alternative. 

“There are no other three-story second units in the neighborhood,” he said. “It is not keeping in character with the neighborhood ... While some changes were made to the design, they don’t really address the major issues.” 

Board member Bob Allen lauded the project. 

“If we are going to be increasing housing, it’s not going to be through high-rise buildings downtown or in the student dorms,” he said. “It’s going to be in the low-density, residential neighborhoods ... I have heard of the ominous shadows that this building will cast, but I don’t know why the neighbors are so gung ho about it. This is not the Arctic Circle, this is California. I can’t think of any house in my neighborhood that doesn’t throw a shadow.” 

Arreguin replied that he hoped housing would not be limited to low-density neighborhoods. 

“Family housing should be built downtown and in other parts of the city too,” he said. “And it’s true all buildings have shadow impacts, but it’s ZAB’s responsibility to determine whether this is the right design or if there is a design that minimizes the impact on neighbors.” 

Board member Jesse Anthony said that it was regrettable that children had been used to protest the proposed development. 

“It’s kind of an unfortunate house,” said Vice Chair Rick Judd. “Unfortunate because of the height, not the design. But unfortunately, it’s not enough to vote against the house.” 

ZAB chair steps down 

Board chair Christiana Tiedemann announced Thursday that she would be stepping down from ZAB after the meeting. 

Tiedemann—who was appointed by Mayor Tom Bates in January 2003—will be replaced by former San Francisco assistant director of planning George Williams at the next meeting on Nov. 8. 

Tiedemann, who represents the Coastal Commission for the California Attorney General’s office, said that she was leaving because of time commitment problems. 

“I have been doing it for the last four years and as it is I don’t have any free time,” she said. “I think there are plenty of talented people out there who can do this.” 

Vice chair Rick Judd will be acting chair at the next meeting when a election will be held to name the new chair and vice chair. Board members need five votes to win.