North Berkeley Neighbors Protest Scale of Proposed Home, Garage

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday February 04, 2010 - 08:34:00 AM
A model of the Kapors’ proposal for their new Rose Street home.
A model of the Kapors’ proposal for their new Rose Street home.

The zoning board approved the construction of a two-story, 6,478-square-foot, 10-car garage house on a 30,000-square-foot parcel at 2707 Rose St. for philanthropists Mitch Kapor and Freada Kapor Klein despite last-minute neighborhood resistance. 

Mitch Kapor, who moved to the Bay Area from Boston, co-founded Lotus Development Corporation and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. 

The proposed project will demolish an existing two-story, 2,477-square-foot residence with three detached garages, which is valued at $725,000 on property-listing websites.  

The Kapors told the zoning board they wanted to move from San Francisco to Berkeley in order to be closer to the UC Berkeley campus, where Kapor is an adjunct professor at the School of Information and his wife runs the IDEAL Scholars Fund, which serves minority students.  

“It’s taken us a while,” Kapor said of their plans to finally decide to relocate. “But we’ve developed close ties to the campus. In designing our home we met with immediate neighbors and are grateful for their support.” 

Although most zoning board members welcomed the Kapors to Berkeley—with Board Member Michael Alvarez Cohen asking “What took you so long?”—a small group of neighbors showed up to express concern about the scale of the project, impact of construction on adjacent smaller, older properties and obstruction of views and parking, asking for a continuance to give them time to respond. 

A few called the earth-toned modern glass boxlike structure the “Big Mac” of houses and compared it with a K-Mart. 

Susan Fadley, a neighbor, complained to the zoning board that the notification process was flawed because hearing notices were posted in places where no one could see them. She said she was not against modern architecture or the Kapors’ wish to build a house, but she wanted a more open public process. 

“There are no pitchforks here,” Fadley said. “This is an impressive house with impressive clients and impressive architects. I am a stone’s throw from the house and many of us woke up over the weekend to find out about this.” 

Frederick While, another area resident, said he was merely asking for “a little time to digest this very large structure.” 

“We’d like to get together with the architects and owners and see if we can reach an agreement about all the trucks going up and down the hill,” While said. Others demanded story poles to give the neighborhood an idea of how big the house really is. 

“The owners are outstanding citizens, which speaks to their credibility—they will not turn a 10-car garage into dorm rooms or a bowling alley—but not to land use,” said ZAB Member Sara Shumer, also calling for story poles. “I am disturbed about the project setting a precedent.” 

Project architects Donn Logan and Marcy Wong told the board that their clients had dealt with the lack of street parking by providing 10 parking spots for cars in the basement. 

Logan said tha, since the house was at the dead end of a street lacking turn-around accommodation, the project’s site plan outlines a way for vehicles to turn around easily. 

He told the Planet before the meeting that most of the opposition had surfaced over the last few days and was from people who weren’t within the 300-foot notice zone. 

“It’s a project that meets or betters the city’s zoning standards,” said Wong.  

Project supporters said the new house would clean up a blighted property, which the previous owners left about six years ago, and strengthen the Berkeley community. 

In approving the permit, the board added that the architect would work with a neighborhood representative to address any outstanding concerns.