Zoning Board Considers Conversion of Condos into Senior Housing

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday June 25, 2009 - 07:44:00 PM

CityCentric Investments will ask the Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board June 25, Thursday, to modify a use permit to change a previously approved mixed-use building in West Berkeley into an affordable senior housing project. 

The original project of five stories and 98 units—15 of which were to sell at below market rate—at 1200 Ashby Ave. was approved by the board on Jan. 22, to include about 8,093 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor (up to 2,000 of which could be used for a restaurant) and 114 parking spaces. 

Modifications to the design would reduce total floor area for all five stories by 9,090 square feet, increase ground-floor commercial space by about 1,600 square feet and reduce the total number of parking spaces to 44. 

A staff report by the city of Berkeley’s planning department staff says CityCentric decided to develop the project as a low-income senior housing facility to take advantage of financing available through the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program and the City of Berkeley’s Housing Trust Fund. 

CityCentric is requesting a Housing Trust Fund allocation of $1,381,450.  

“The economic tsunami of the last year and a half together with President Obama’s stimulus package has created a ‘perfect storm’ of circumstances to reposition this project as affordable senior housing,” CityCentric principals Ali Kashani and Mark Rhoades (formerly the planning department’s manager) wrote in a letter to the zoning board. “These circumstances are creating the opportunity for the public and private sectors to combine resources and directly leverage private capital for the sake of Berkeley’s current and future senior citizens.” 

The developers, the report says, will stick to the same number of residential units and “essentially the same exterior building envelope as the approved project,” except for a few changes. 

All the units—with the exception of one which will be for the building manager—will be reserved for individuals who are 62 years or older. Every unit will be rented to households earning less than the area median income. 

The Low Income Housing Tax Credit program and the city’s Housing Trust Fund money is scheduled to be awarded in September. If the Ashby Avenue project gets selected, it would be subject to low-income affordability levels and other provisions of the LIHTC program for 55 years. 

CityCentric has also made an agreement with Berkeley-based nonprofit LifeLong Medical Care, to provide four hours of free social service every day for the building’s residents, including life skills training, case management and counseling, educational classes, mediation, and shuttle service to LifeLong’s Over 60 Health Center at 3260 Sacramento Street, which is about a mile away.  

Some neighbors have expressed concern at the loss of parking in the new project and the fact that its scale—which they consider too big—remains unchanged. 

ZAB will meet on June 25, Thursday, at 7 p.m. at Old City Hall, 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way.