Developer Selects West Berkeley for New Housing Project

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday October 09, 2008 - 09:24:00 AM

Berkeley real estate developer duo Chris Hudson and Evan McDonald—known for the Fine Arts building downtown and the Trader Joe’s project on University Avenue—gave the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board a glimpse of their next big venture at a public meeting Monday. 

The board and the public were asked to weigh in on the project’s draft environmental impact report, which will be back at the zoning board for approval at a future date. No one from the community turned up to comment. 

The proposed project—a 92,470-square-foot five-story mixed-use 94-unit apartment building called The Addison—would be located at 651 Addison St. in West Berkeley, just two blocks from the Fourth Street shopping district. 

The project promises “modern, executive housing in the heart of the city’s high-tech, bio-tech, and creative jobs center.” 

Designed by Baum Thornley Architects, the proposed project would also feature a ground-floor cafe-restaurant, offices, retail space, and 14 low-income units. The project would be completed in 2010. 

The Addison, which boasts an energy-efficient design and construction plans, would also be only three blocks from the transbay bus stop, a block from Amtrak and right on the Bay Trail bicycle path. It would include a community roof garden and barbecue area that would give residents panoramic views of San Francisco. 

Zoning officials said the project would return to the board for use permits in November, and according to the Hudson McDonald website, construction is scheduled to begin this fall. 

City officials said the project—located a block from the Berkeley Marina—was one of the few developments in Berkeley that required an environmental impact report mainly because of its location, right next to a major freeway and the railroad tracks. 

“It’s definitely new to Berkeley,” said project planner Greg Powell of the city’s Planning Department. “We haven’t had too many projects like this, which are adjacent to major roadways. At least I haven’t worked on any before. This one is not really in a great location just because it’s so close to the tracks.” 

Powell said the proposed project was similar to the housing projects at 700 University and 1200 Ashby avenues, which have similar settings. 

Zoning members focused mainly on traffic and air-quality impacts while discussing the environmental impact report at the meeting. 

According to the staff report, the intersections at Fourth and Hearst Avenue and Sixth Street and University would be impacted considerably by the project. 

“Since it’s right next to the railroad tracks and close to the freeway, the intersections in that area are pretty busy,” Steve Ross, secretary of the  

zoning board, told the Planet. “A lot of traffic gets off in that area. Also, 700 University is right across the street.” 

Board member Sara Shumer suggested that Hudson McDonald pay a fine to mitigate the project’s overall development if it was unable to alleviate traffic at certain intersections. 

Powell said he would study the idea and report to the zoning board at the next meeting.  

The environmental impact report also states that residents who would live at 651 Addison for more than 70 years were at a risk of getting cancer from toxic air contaminants from freeway traffic and Pacific Steel Castings, which has plants in West Berkeley. 

Steps to alleviate the risk include installing air filters on the building’s windows, which would have to be kept closed most of the time. 

“I don’t know if you can expect in real life to assure compliance of this,” Board Chair Rick Judd said, referring to the closed windows. “Are there alternate mitigation measures from which we can assure better compliance?” 

Ross said that the significant cancer risk was only for people who would live at the location for more than 70 years without traveling anywhere else, that is, if the project’s residents were exposed to the toxic air 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, for a period of 70 years. 

Ross told the Planet that developers were starting to convert old warehouses in West Berkeley into mixed-use housing because of its proximity to a transit hub and Fourth Street shopping. 

“It’s becoming an extension of the older residential neighborhood down there that once used to be Ocean View,” he said.