Berkeley’s Zoning Adjustments Board delayed approval of developer Ali Kashani’s five-story condo project at the corner of Ashby and San Pablo avenues last week.
The Thursday decision came after Steven Wollmer, a land use activist, pointed to problems in the wording of the proposed use permit’s handling of the project’s affordable housing units.
The 98-unit, five-story, project is being developed by Kashani and his business partner Mark Rhoades, formerly the city’s land use planning manager.
The board also approved a three-story office building at 1926 Shattuck Ave., the demolition of a once-popular drive-in, a wine tasting room in the Elmwood and a fast food eatery on 10th Street.
The new building on Shattuck that ZAB approved will serve two purposes. First, it will provide expanded quarters for a leading seismic engineering firm, and, second, it will be used as a demonstration model of new engineering techniques.
“We want to showcase our building so it reflects who we are and what we do,” said Steven B. Tipping, a principal in Tipping Mar + Associates, the same firm which did the earthquake engineering for the David Brower Center.
The new structure “will be the smallest base-isolated building in the U.S. when it’s done,” Tipping said, “a demonstration building.”
Tipping and fellow principal David Mar brought a group of employees and neighbors, who praised and occasionally applauded their proposal.
In approving the building, the city waived parking requirements and regulations which would have block construction of a third floor.
While city staff had sought a fee in lieu of providing required parking, the board rejected the notion, citing company programs designed to encourage workers to use transit or bike, with only Sara Shumer and Chair Rick Judd looking for something more for the city.
The board also overruled a proposal from Planning Director Dan Marks to seek some tradeoff for allowing some of the upper part of the building to overhang the sidewalk, which the board also rejected.
Judd said that if the city wants to impose tradeoffs, then it should do so through changing the city’s regulations accordingly.
“The Planning Commission of Berkeley really needs to do its job,” Judd said, and set general policy rather than leaving ZAB to decide on a case-by-case basis. “This is not our business.”
Developer Ali Kashani spoke on two projects Thursday night. First, he had nice things to say about the Tipping Mar building on Shattuck, and he later had even nicer things to say about Ashby Arts, his five-story condo project at 1920 Ashby Ave., at the southeast corner of San Pablo Avenue—one of the city’s gateway intersections.
While the board had been scheduled to vote on the project, action was delayed because of problems Wollmer pointed out in the way the developers had calculated the costs of units to be made available as affordable housing—a process regulated by both municipal and state regulations.
While the city hopes to use the project to leverage a $9 million state grant to fund streetscape improvements on San Pablo and Kashani’s Citycentric Investments hopes to maximize their project, Wollmer said the developer had failed to meet the basic affordability requirements laid out in state law.
The state density bonus and Berkeley’s own inclusionary ordinance regulate pricing for so-called affordable housing units included in market-rate apartment and condo projects.
Under the permit brought before ZAB, Kashani would have distributed the affordable units through the middle three-fourths of the building, leaving the top floor units all at market rate—whether rented or sold.
In return for 15 affordable units, Citycentric was to get a density bonus of 24 units, nearly a one-third increase in the size otherwise allowed by city regulations.
Wollmer said that his calculations showed that the projected prices for would-be affordable units were actually higher than allowed by state regulations, and city staff agreed that the figures needed to be recalculated.
In the end, the board voted unanimously to continue the hearing so that staff could run the numbers and return with a revised permit proposal.
Judd said he was also concerned because of the cumulative impact of seven projects approved in the area which, taken together, will delay left turns at the intersection by more than four minutes by 2030. The new Berkeley Bowl a block away is one of the seven projects.
“This area is where we have done the most damage in the city by approving projects without (traffic) mitigations,” he said.
But member Bob Allen said that the delays added by the Kashani projects were minimal, and praised what he said “is going to be a very successful building.”
The board also approved a permit to open a wine and beer shop with a wine- tasting room at 2949 College Ave. Earlier objections from neighbors had been resolved, and the item was approved as part of the night’s consent calendar.
Also issued by consent was a demolition permit for 3020 San Pablo Ave., where Yerba Buena Builders of San Francisco had sought approval to level the old Twin Castle drive-in, where the board has already issued a use permit for a new mixed-use residential-over-commercial project.
The old drive-in, which had offered one of the most eclectic menus in the city, had been heavily vandalized after the eatery closed, prompting a city nuisance finding that led to the demolition permit.
The board also approved without discussion architect Kava Massih’s request for a permit to build a quick-service restaurant at the site of an old nursery at 1326 10th St.