The Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) gave nods to three big projects last week, which propose to add a restaurant downtown, build a bio fuels station in South Berkeley and permit a child care center for Pixar employees in West Berkeley.
Restaurant at 2130 Center St.
Despite concerns regarding noise and parking from a few neighboring businesses and restaurants, ZAB approved Berkeley developer Patrick Kennedy’s request for a blanket use permit to establish a 13,974-square-foot full-service upscale restaurant and bar at the former location of the Act 1&2 Theatre.
Kennedy has yet to name a tenant for the proposed project, which his firm, Panoramic Interests, said has potential for a Spanish or Latin restaurant with live entertainment.
“We wanted to have the full-service restaurant necessary to attract a good reputable high end name to Berkeley,” said Niloo Nouri, who addressed the board on behalf of Kennedy.
Nouri added that the restaurant would adhere to the city’s noise ordinance and that it was leaning more toward a “Spanish guitar type music” and not loud rock bands.
The restaurant’s sidewalk seating would leave 10 feet of open space for the pedestrian right of way, in accordance with every other restaurant on the 2100 block of Center Street.
Board members Sarah Shumer and Jesse Arreguin—who voted against the project—expressed concerns regarding approving a blanket use permit.
“I am concerned about parking,” said Shumer. “If we have a large restaurant there, parking will be a problem.”
“If we are not going to allow this type of a development, what use can we allow downtown?” asked board vice chair Bob Allen. “Do we want more of a ghost town than we have now? We are scratching for reasons not to develop the site. Bless us if we can have 14,000 square feet of restaurant full of people on this block.”
The proposed restaurant, located close to UC Berkeley, Berkeley City College and a large number of downtown offices, will be able to sell alcohol independent of selling food.
Future developments proposed for the 2100 block of Center Street include the Berkeley Charles Hotel and Convention Center and the Berkeley Art Museum and Film Archive.
“I agree with Bob we need a more vibrant downtown but the lack of specificity concerns me,” said Arreguin.
In a letter to the zoning board, Doug Hambleton, Berkeley police chief, expressed concern about the project’s blanket use permit, noise and supervision issues.
BioFuels Oasis at 1441 Ashby Ave.
ZAB approved a permit for the all-women cooperative BioFuels Oasis to operate a fueling station at 1441 Ashby Ave., the former site of Kandy’s Detail, a black-owned car wash business.
Members of South Berkeley’s African American community have vociferously opposed the proposed project, contending that it shows the city’s planning department’s prejudice against blacks and the city’s lack of support for black-owned businesses.
On Nov. 26, the zoning board had held a public hearing and had allowed two months for mediation between property owner Craig Hertz, BioFuels Oasis and Kandy Alford, owner of the car wash.
According to ZAB, the mediation would “explore alternatives to the project that would allow Mr. Alford to continue operating at the site or to find another site for Mr. Alford.”
According to a zoning staff report, Alford’s business has since then vacated the site. The report also states that Hertz had stated that “he was unwilling to engage in mediation with Mr. Alford.”
At the last meeting, Hertz told the board that Kandy was six months behind on his rent and was facing eviction.
“I hope the new business will thrive and become a part of the community,” said Arreguin. “This has been a very decisive hearing and I hope some of the wounds will be addressed.”
A few members of the South Berkeley neighborhood said that they would challenge the approval in court as well as at the City Council.
Pixar day care at 2600 Tenth St.
ZAB approved a variance for a child care center for Disney Pixar employees at 2600 Tenth St.
San Rafael-based Wareham Development proposes to convert 9,961 square feet of existing ground floor space at the Saul Zaentz Media Center—formally known as the Fantasy Records Building—at 2600 Tenth St. to serve the needs of up to 100 children whose parents work on-site or at Pixar.
Wareham needs a variance for the proposed project since the city’s zoning ordinance specifically prohibits child care centers in the Mixed Use /Light Industrial (MULI) district.
The MULI district’s prohibition of child care centers conflicts with the West Berkeley Plan, which allows day care centers as a conditional use in the Mixed Use/Light Industrial area, and the General Plan, which encourages improvement of the quality of life and private service availability for residents and workers.
According to one of the findings, an employer-sponsored child care center would allow the multi-media center to effectively compete with larger and newer facilities in neighboring cities.
The zoning staff report also stated that the facility would attract other businesses and improve the economic growth of the city.