One afternoon in 2002 the biggest fire I have ever seen burned to the ground a laundromat in my neighborhood. It was Milt’s Coin Op and it took 24 hours before it was entirely under control. By then, everything was gone. I live in the Halcyon Commons neighborhood and it seemed that all of us watched from the corner of Telegraph and Prince that day. Since then I have met many neighbors from the other side of Telegraph in the Bateman community who shared my experience. Some of the Bateman people lived directly behind the fire and came very close to losing their homes. Several years passed and finally a luxury development was built on the former site of the now defunct laundromat: Southside Lofts at 3095 Telegraph Ave. The design was attractive and there was the required parking lot in back for tenants and visitors. Like so many new additions to our city, retail space was provided below the new homes. Everything seemed fine. Then, without any warning, the developer began tearing up the street in front of the luxury homes. As I passed by each day I couldn’t believe my eyes. The street began to look like an industrial site and the noise and constant dust from concrete must have been terrible for the tenants if it affected the surrounding neighbors as well. The construction impacted the existing retail below as parking was restricted and the noise level discouraged many of us from entering the businesses. Finally, there was a major gas leak which terrified everyone living in the Lofts.
I have lived in this neighborhood for over 15 years. The developer of this complex filed an application with the city requesting a “renovation of the existing laundromat,” rather than properly requesting an application for a conversion permit. In this way he was able to bypass a review by the community. This permit was approved in error based on an incorrect and possibly fraudulent permit application resulting in the denial of an opportunity for a public hearing. The planning department acknowledges having approved the permit erroneously. This business, if it is allowed, will create huge parking issues, constant noise and toxic fumes for those who live above, and the fire that threatened our neighborhood seven years ago could happen again but this time there would be people who are living directly above the laundromat.
The City of Berkeley Planning Department has approved a building permit for a Laundromat at 3095 Telegraph Avenue, on the first floor of a mixed-use building completed in 2006. The permit was approved based on an incorrect and possibly fraudulent permit application, resulting in the denial of a public hearing on the project.
The planning department acknowledges having approved the permit erroneously. The applicant avoided the administrative use permit requirement by filing a zoning certificate application that falsely stated the existing use as “Laundromat” rather than “Vacant Commercial Space.” When the planning department acknowledged its mistake, a stop work order was issued until the applicant obtained an administrative use permit. Soon thereafter, however, the city attorney lifted the stop work order due to the financial investment and legal commitments already made by the owner and operator, in complete disregard of the financial interests of the owners of the ten residences above the proposed laundromat, and in total disregard of the impacts on the neighbors.
The city council referred this matter to the city manager on Sept. 29. In his Oct. 14 report to the council, the city manager did not dispute the facts, but he told the city council that the permit cannot be revoked. We are therefore requesting that the city council take the necessary action to ensure that the planning department suspends the building permit on this project until the applicant obtains an administrative use permit, thereby giving neighbors an opportunity to voice their concerns in a public hearing. We invite you to sign our petition and to attend the council meeting on Oct. 27 at the Old City Hall to help support our request.
If you have questions or would like information on how you can sign our petition before the next council meeting, please contact: Marcy McGaugh at firstname.lastname@example.org or Joslyn Rose at email@example.com.