Tune-Up Masters Condos Project Rises from the Dead

By Richard Brenneman
Friday January 18, 2008

Posted 1/21—Berkeley Design Review Committee members gave a qualified thumbs up Thursday night to plans for a controversial and long-delayed condominium project on University Avenue. 

Zoning Adjustments Board members had approved the project at 1698 University Ave. nearly three years ago, but the project had fallen into limbo. 

Then Pinole real estate broker Brian Baniqued brought the property, obtained new financing, submitted new designs and sought approval of a modification of the original use permit. 

Known informally as the Tune-Up Masters project because of the auto maintenance business that once occupied the site, the building plans had sparked heated debate at ZAB before they approved it in April 2005. 

After an unsuccessful appeal by neighbors to the City Council was defeated three months later, the project fell into development limbo. 

Beyond the objections of neighbors who worried about the building’s impact on homes on Addison Street to the rear of the site, ZAB members were concerned at learning the city had differing affordable housing requirements for condo projects and apartment buildings. 

Ownership projects were required to set aside 10 percent of units for buyers making 120 percent of the area median income, while apartment builders are required to set aside twice as many. 

In return for providing the affordable units, developers are entitled to density bonuses, allowing them to increase the size of their projects above the maximums that would otherwise apply under city zoning regulations—though just how much has been a bone of contention between city planning staff and some of the citizen commissioners and city councilmembers. 

Concerned, ZAB created a density bonus subcommittee to study the issue and formulate policy recommendations, and the city council later added members from the Planning and Housing Advisory commissions. 

When the subcommittee’s mandate was ended, the matter was handed on to the Planning Commission, which is currently pondering the issue. 

Meanwhile, Pacific Bay Investments, the original developers, sold the property and its already approved development rights to Baniqued. 

The new owner hired Berkeley architect KwanLum Wong to modify the project, in part to address neighborhood noise and privacy concerns. 

“This is a really, really big building for our neighborhood,” said Robin Kibby, an Addison Street resident who had fought the project three years earlier. 

Kibby said she was happy that a roof deck had been pushed back and plantings added to meet privacy concerns, but she was still concerned about traffic and a design she described as “industrial.” 

While committee members said they were concerned about several design issues, Baniqued said that if their concerns threatened to prolong the project, he would simply move forward under the existing permit. 

With his funding commitment about to expire, Baniqued said, he had no other option. 

The committee will still have one more chance to make small modifications—color scheme was one issue—after he takes the project to ZAB for approval of the new permit.