Southside Lofts residents emerged victorious once again Tuesday when the City Council voted to uphold the Zoning Adjustment Board's decision to deny a use permit for a laundromat in the building.
The battle between condo owners at 3095 Telegraph Ave. and the PWS laundry company has been going on since 2009, when one of the neighbors discovered that the city had issued an erroneous use permit to the corporation based on the existence of a previous laundromat at the site, which had burned down several years before.
The city issued a stop work order, but PWS threatened to sue, citing thousands of dollars already spent on construction work. As a result, a settlement was reached and the city agree to pay $42,000 to PWS to cover construction costs.
In exchange, PWS agreed to follow the proper zoning process, but reserved the right to file a lawsuit if the city denied their permit.
On Tuesday, property owner Sam Sorokin warned the council that the issue had not yet come to an end. He accused the council of being unfriendly to businesses.
“In this city homeowners clearly trump retailers,” he said. “You are not reasonable to businesses. We have a right to this space. Now what are we supposed to do? There is clearly going to be another part to this story.”
Sorokin was previously denied a use permit to open a Quizno's restaurant in the same spot because neighbors were concerned about parking and quality of life.
The council based their decision to deny a use permit for a business the second time based on some of the same reasons. It took into account noise, vibration and health effects, as well the lack of sufficient parking and the absence of a full-time attendant to keep the place secure when it is open.
“To see a laundromat being unattended is a cause for concern for us,” said Scott Stoller, whose 4-year-old daughter Arunima often plays within their condo complex.
PWS's lawyer argued that Berkeley does not have any blanket requirements for laundromats to provide an attendant all the time.
“To make it a requirement of this business without any evidence that it is necessary is making it an untenable situation,” the lawyer said. “The issue of security is self regulating … Anybody who is investing thousands of dollars will make sure the place is safe.”
The need for an attendant received support from the majority of the council, including Susan Wengraf, who said she had been assaulted in a laundromat during the daytime in a very safe neighborhood.
“Laundromats are essentially magnets for people loitering around looking for bad things to do,” she said.
Wengraf suggested that the Berkeley Planning Commission look into whether it would be possible to stop laundromats from going into mixed-use buildings altogether.
Councilmember Laurie Capitelli reminded the council that a vacant property was also a detriment to a neighborhood.
Both Capitelli and Mayor Tom Bates stressed that it was essential the space not remain empty for a long time.