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Tune-Up Masters Project Rises From the Dead

By Richard Brenneman
Tuesday January 22, 2008

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 bought 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 KwanLam 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. 


Fantasy kids 

Wareham Developers partner Chris Barlow gave the committee a preliminary look at the newest tenant of one his firm’s newest acquisitions, the Fantasy Building at 10th and Parker streets in West Berkeley. 

Pixar Studios, the Emeryville filmmaker specializing in digital animation features, has leased 9,960 square feet of ground floor space for a child care center. 

The plans Barlow and landscape architect Cesar Lau showed the committee focused on the additional 7,500 square feet of the current parking lot of the south of the building which Pixar has leased for a playground. 

“This is a fine use of the site,” said committee chair David Snippen. 

The playground will be divided into two sections, one for older children and one for toddlers. All plantings will be either harmless or edible, and most of the surfaces will be water permeable. 

The one concern shared by committee members was the fence design, which all agreed was too plain. 

Instead, members urged, Pixar should come up with something as imaginative as their cinematic creations. 

After his presentation, Barlow told a reporter that Wareham had been very successful in keeping the tenants who had leased their offices and students from film producer Saul Zaentz when he owned the structure. 

“We’ve retained 85 percent of the tenants, and we are very pleased with what’s been going on. And we are committed to maintaining a world-class media center,” he said. 

Among Wareham tenants are Zaentz himself and some of the producer’s partners, he said.  


1819 Fifth St. 

Committee members were much less enamored of architect Tim Rempel’s plans to expand the vacant one-story brick warehouse building at 1819 Fifth St. into a project with nine live/work units, three commercial units and 10 light industrial units. 

It wasn’t that they didn’t like the design—the consensus was that he had designed an admirable project. The problem was, they said, that it wasn’t well configured for the place where he wants to build it. 

Rempel told the committee he’d “been on the verge of abandoning the project a number of times.”  

And judging from their comments before the committee on Thursday, that wouldn’t displease many of his neighbors. 

Rempel’s plans have drawn fire from neighbors before, and he was forced into a long-running battle with neighbors and Landmarks Preservation Commissioners over his designs for two buildings in the 2100 block of Sixth Street. 

While committee members said they generally liked the design, most said they felt that the massive front it presented on Fifth Street overpowered the neighborhood. 

“ ‘If this was a new building in a different context, I would very much like the design,” said Rob Ludlow. “But there are issues because of where it is and how it relates to the buildings around it.” 

“”I like your designs in general,” said Burton Edwards. “But I’m not sure I like this particular design in this particular place.” 

Carrie Olson called the design “massive on the street frontage for this area” and overbearing for the neighborhood. 

“Looming,” declared Sara Shumer. “It’s out of context for the community in this area.” 

It was Chair David Snippen who first suggested reorienting the mass of the structure from the street frontage to the interior of the lot, a notion which seemed to find favor with most of his committee colleagues. 

Neighbors wanted to preserve the brick facing of the existing building, another notion the committee favored over Rempel’s proposal to cover the bricks with a layer of gunite (sprayed concrete). 

“It’s a real sterile building that has no character that matches the street. It wouldn’t fit at all,” said neighbor John Fordice. 

Joyce Robertson, who lives behind the building in a landmarked home on Sixth Street, said the structure would block her view of the bay, and said the project is “out of scale with anything around it.” 

Robert Brady, who lives just across from the site on Fifth Street, said he has a problem with the size of the project, and was disappointed that Rempel hadn’t reduce the building’s scale after hearing complaints from neighbors. 

John Emberton, a self-described “lizard farmer” and owner of the East Bay Vivarium, which is located immediately to the south of the project, said the building would render the entrance to his business invisible from the street. He also said the 22 parking spaces planned for the project are “grossly inadequate.” 

Emberton said he was also concerned that the tool and die business which had operated for decades on the site may have contaminated the soil with oil, solvents and metal shavings. 

In the end, the committee voted to continue their evaluation to see how Rempel had accommodated their criticisms. 

And, as Olson reminded him, he still needs to clear his plans with the Landmarks Preservation Commission because the site is adjacent to the Delaware Street Historic District.