Zoning Board Approves Permit For Extended-Stay Hotel

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday August 07, 2008 - 11:57:00 AM

Visitors, business travelers and international students at UC Berkeley might soon be able to stay in the city for up to a year without having to worry about signing leases or dealing with fussy landlords. 

The Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board last week approved a use permit for a 68-room extended-stay hotel in downtown Berkeley. It will be located in a five-story building at 2136 Center St. previously approved for condos. 

The hotel will be the first in the city to cater to travelers looking to extend their stay in Berkeley for more than a few days, according to Berkeley-based Iranian-born developer Soheyl Modarressi, who owns the property. 

Modarressi, who is president of the Oxford Development Group, developed Epicurious Garden, located in the Gourmet Ghetto on North Shattuck, over a period of three years. 

According to him, the hotel would “serve an unmet demand for extended stay accommodations within the city.” 

“There are no extended stays in Berkeley,” he told the zoning board at a public meeting last week. “People who want to stay for a month are going to Emeryville and Richmond ... Extended stay is a new idea and it’s important to get it done before the market shifts again. The banks are being conservative with loans right now.” 

According to a staff report, Modarressi had a difficult time securing funds for the proposed project because of the “recent dramatic decline in the real estate and financial market.” 

Modarressi said the hotel rooms would be upscale luxury units with maid service. 

Hotel amenities would include furnished studios and one-bedroom units with bathrooms, but, unlike a typical hotel room, each unit would come with a fully equipped kitchen, which guests would be responsible for cleaning. 

“We expect our clients to stay from two weeks to four or five months,” he said. 

According to the staff report, “visitors would typically stay an average of one to six weeks, but have the option of staying up to a year to accommodate the needs of corporate relocations, extended work relocations, visiting researchers, faculty and family of UC Berkeley students.” 

Located on Center between Shattuck Avenue and Oxford Street, the proposed project—on a 23,017-square-foot site—is close to the downtown BART and the UC Berkeley campus. 

The site is now a 36-spot parking lot facing Oxford Lane, and the new hotel will be located behind the two-story historic Thomas Block building. 

It is also close to the Brower Center, located on the southwest corner of Allston Way and Oxford, and to the Arpeggio mixed-use project, located on the north side of Center Street west of Shattuck Avenue, which are both under construction. 

UC Berkeley is also designing a new art museum at the northwest corner of Oxford and Center. 

The zoning board approved two separate use permits for the extended-stay hotel—as a tourist hotel and a residential hotel—since it was a slightly different concept, zoning officials said. 

“It’s more like a residence inn,” zoning secretary Steve Ross told the Planet. “It has a slightly different use than residential or tourist hotels. So we required two different use permits to define it. Tourist hotels are limited to shorter stays whereas residential hotels allow for a slightly longer stay. Since the units in this building were already designed as dwelling units, the hotel rooms have a little kitchenette and a wet bar to make the stay more comfortable.” 

According to the staff report, “extended stay hotels offer flexibility to those clients who may require accommodations for greater than the 14 days allowed in the tourist hotel and would like the full amenities provided in a home, but do not wish to enter into long-term lease agreements in the rental housing market due to the limited duration of their stay.” 

The city’s municipal code defines a tourist hotel room “as one with an occupancy not to exceed 14 consecutive days,” and a residential hotel room is defined as “one to be used, designed or intended to be used for a period of 14 consecutive days or more. 

The city currently doesn’t have a separate use permit for extended-stay hotels. 

The city would also get transit occupancy taxes from the tourist hotel use, Ross said.