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San Pablo Condo Project Defaults, Forced Sale Scheduled

By Richard Brenneman
Thursday December 04, 2008 - 09:49:00 AM
2700 San Pablo has never had a tenant.
By Richard Brenneman
2700 San Pablo has never had a tenant.

The latest chapter in one of Berkeley’s more hotly contested buildings will unfold on the courthouse steps in Oakland at high noon on Dec. 16. 

That’s when the condo building at 2700 San Pablo Ave. will be sold at auction to pay for the $10.8 million incurred by its owner, Carleton Place, LLC, in May 2006. 

Developer Charmaine Curtis told a writer for Apartment Finance Today magazine in April that the total cost of the project had been $14 million. 

The five-story building, erected after five years of legal battles and without ever having hosted a single tenant other than the occasional presence of real estate brokers and would-be buyers, has become the latest casualty of the real estate meltdown. 

The building was the city’s first major condo project in recent years, though its scale is dwarfed by the Berkeley Arpeggio, the nine-and-a-half-story building now rising on Center Street in downtown Berkeley. 

The project went through three hands and a change of name between the initial plans and today’s nearly finished but empty edifice, beginning as a project of Patrick Kennedy. 

There was controversy from the start when plans were first floated in 1998, and by the time of a heated Zoning Adjustments Board meeting on June 8, 2000, Patrick Kennedy—Berkeley’s most controversial developer—was angry enough to blast project critics as “citizen vigilantes.” 

Neighbors hated the building in June at five stories. They still loathed it at four stories when Kennedy brought in back to ZAB in November, and seven board members voted against it, while two others abstained. 

The original 63 apartments of housing were scaled down to 48, but Kennedy’s project manager, Chris Hudson, initially refused to scale the structure down even more. ZAB shot it down once more as too dense for the adjacent residential neighborhood. It was down to 35 units when Kennedy won approval to build it at 35 units and four floors in July 2002. 

At the time, the project was dubbed Jubilee Courtyard Apartments. 

It was 13 months later when Kennedy threw in the towel. His minority partner, Rev. Gordon Choyce, was unable to buy out Kennedy’s 73 percent majority stake, so the lot went on the market, along with the accompanying city approvals. 

Chris Hudson told this paper at the time that Panoramic Interests was giving up on the project because of the long, contentious history of neighborhood opposition and because the developer wanted to focus on bigger projects. 

Brokers Norheim and Yost eventually sold the property to Curtis + Partners, LLC, of San Francisco. The new firm was headed by Charmaine Curtis, the former president of major San Francisco developer AF Evans, who had branched out on her own earlier in the year. 

Avenue West, as the building was then known, would be her first independent project. 

Instead of apartments, Curtis proposed condos and offered plans that boosted the height to five floors by converting most of the street-level units into live-work spaces with lofts. ZAB approved her initial plans on Dec. 9, 2004, this time with two opposing votes. 

Curtis created a limited liability corporation—an LLC—for the property three months later, a technique increasingly favored by developers since it both limits losses to the project costs and provides an attractive way to sell a building without the buyer incurring a property tax reassessment. 

The designs went through more changes, with one first-floor living unit transformed into a solely commercial condo, and a final design that opted for cheaper concrete construction rather than the steel and glass of the Kennedy/Choyce era, a cost-cutting move that neighbors said detracted from the project’s esthetic impact. 

The last stage before construction was demolition of an old gas station building that once occupied the site. 

When the building was finally completed early this year, Mayor Tom Bates and City Councilmember Darryl Moore were on hand, with Bates praising the building as one of the first projects that would “help transform San Pablo Avenue,” according to the account in the Oakland Globe. 

Berkeley City Manager Phil Kamlarz said Wednesday that he hadn’t been aware of the foreclosure auction. City economic development director Michael Caplan did not return calls.  

The Curtis + Partners phone number is no longer listed to the company.  

The auction will be conducted Dec. 16, at the Fallon Street entrance to the Alameda County Courthouse at 1225 Fallon St. in downtown Oakland. 

Plans for an earlier auction in September were canceled after the mortgage was transferred to a new owner, said Alan Scott Koenig, who had been the trustee for the earlier sale.