Telegraph Laundromat Dilemma Gets Postponed for a Month

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Wednesday March 31, 2010 - 03:31:00 PM
Riya Bhattacharjee

Southside Lofts residents were back Tuesday to make one last plea to the Berkeley City Council to deny a laundromat a permit to move into their building, or so they thought. 

The council, which was charged with hearing the appeal of the Zoning Adjustments Board’s February decision to deny a use permit for a laundromat at 3095 Telegraph Ave., decided to postpone the issue for a month. 

Although there was overwhelming testimony from homeowners and community members in favor of upholding the zoning board’s decision, the council found it impossible to arrive at any kind of a conclusion about the dilemma before them. 

An erroneously issued use permit by the Berkeley Planning Department led San Diego–based PWS to start the groundwork for a laundromat in the loft building. But a neighbor intervened, which led to the city discovering that although the use permit had been issued on the basis that there had been a previous laundromat at the site, that store had burned down years ago. Thus, the developers should have applied for a new administrative use permit. 

The city halted the construction, but after PWS threatened to file a lawsuit against the City of Berkeley, a settlement was reached whereby the city paid PWS $42,000 to cover costs arising from delays and relocation of vents.  

In return, PWS agreed to follow the required zoning process, but reserved the right to file a lawsuit in the event that the city did not approve the permit.  

A large group of neighbors showed up to plead against the laundromat, citing health, safety and parking concerns. 

Mahershalalhashbaz Ali, whose nearly half million dollar condo is right above the proposed laundromat, said he was worried about noise, vibration and odors. 

“My unit shakes, when I or even my neighbor washes clothes,” Ali said. “I believe a business directly below one’s home, with 50 washers and dryers, would prove to be a very serious nuisance. 

Ali quoted from the condo owners’ regulations, which he said clearly “prohibits noise, vibration and noxious odors.” 

Berkeley’s Planning Manager Debbie Sanderson said that the Bay Area Air Quality District had not found odors from the washers and dryers to be a health hazard. 

However, a neighbor testifying before the council later said that the Air District had not studied harmful effects of laundry machines at all. 

David Greens, an attorney representing PWS, said that project opponents had made a “lot of exaggerated charges.” 

“It’s meant to benefit the community,” he said of the laundromat. “We have complied with city laws.” 

Some neighbors think that PWS knowingly provided misinformation to the city to get a permit. 

“I am quite surprised they are unhappy with a laundromat because so many people came up to me even before the project started and said” they didn’t have a problem with it, said Sam Sorokin, who developed Southside Lofts. 

Southside resident Frank Darr told the council that Sorokin had told him while developing the condo complex that a laundromat would be incompatible with the project. But Sorokin told council: “I never said that.” 

Councilmembers Linda Maio, Kriss Worthington, Laurie Capitelli and Jesse Arreguin asked city staff to find out what kind of conditions and findings would be required to reject the proposal. 

Another problem appeared to be the parking. Although Sorokin had advertised the proposed laundromat space as having three parking spaces, the permit application says that there are four. 

The city had earlier denied a use permit for Quiznos for the very same spot due to a lack of parking. 

Worthington pointed out that weekend parking requirements would have to be in the ballpark of at least 10 to 12 spots. 

He said that the city’s municipal code allows the City Council to require more parking spaces if they find it necessary.