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Design Review Commission Considers North Shattuck Safeway, Durant Avenue Development

By Steven Finacom
Tuesday May 25, 2010 - 11:41:00 AM
A plan of the North Shattuck Safeway site, showing current buildings in dark gray, and proposed building additions to the Safeway in light gray.
A plan of the North Shattuck Safeway site, showing current buildings in dark gray, and proposed building additions to the Safeway in light gray.
The main north-facing façade of the redesigned Safeway, from the design submittal to the City of Berkeley in late 2009.  Some of the details of the façade shown here have been altered in more recent reviews.
The main north-facing façade of the redesigned Safeway, from the design submittal to the City of Berkeley in late 2009. Some of the details of the façade shown here have been altered in more recent reviews.
The vacant, tree-filled, lot on Henry Street between the rear of the Safeway store (left) and a single story house (right).  Safeway proposes to infill much of this lot with an addition to the store building.
Steven Finacom
The vacant, tree-filled, lot on Henry Street between the rear of the Safeway store (left) and a single story house (right). Safeway proposes to infill much of this lot with an addition to the store building.
The current Safeway north façade and part of the landscaping along Henry Street.
Steven Finacom
The current Safeway north façade and part of the landscaping along Henry Street.
The current St. Mark’s Church parking garage, where infill housing development is proposed.  Deodar trees at center at Durant and Ellsworth behind street tree; Julia Morgan designed City Club at right, on Durant Avenue.
Steven Finacom
The current St. Mark’s Church parking garage, where infill housing development is proposed. Deodar trees at center at Durant and Ellsworth behind street tree; Julia Morgan designed City Club at right, on Durant Avenue.
The development team presented this design for the infill building at the May 20, 2010 DRC meeting.
The development team presented this design for the infill building at the May 20, 2010 DRC meeting.
A detail of the Durant / Ellsworth corner, as proposed.
A detail of the Durant / Ellsworth corner, as proposed.
Developer Evan McDonald speaks to the DRC about the St. Mark’s project.  Architect Erick Mikiten seated, behind McDonald.
Steven Finacom
Developer Evan McDonald speaks to the DRC about the St. Mark’s project. Architect Erick Mikiten seated, behind McDonald.

After hearing presentations and public comments at its regular meeting of May 20, 2010, the City of Berkeley’s Design Review Commission gave alternate buffets and praise to a revised design for the North Shattuck Safeway and expressed considerable concern about aspects of a housing development proposed adjacent to the historic Berkeley City Club on Durant Avenue. 

The DRC is a low-profile, but influential, review body that includes representatives from the Zoning Adjustments Board, Civic Arts Commission and Landmarks Preservation Commission as well as professional landscape architects and architects in private practice. 

It is “charged with the review and approval of design proposals for projects in non-residential districts”; this can often include residential infill buildings along commercial corridors.The full Committee was in attendance. 

North Shattuck Safeway 

Architect Eric Price and landscape architect Graham Hill of Lowney Architecture from Oakland presented the revised design for the North Shattuck Safeway expansion.Another individual, apparently a Safeway representative, stood at the back of the room and occasionally called out answers to questions from the DRC. 

This was the third review this year for the project at the DRC; the design was considered at, and revised after, the March and April DRC meetings. This May discussion was a continuation of the Preliminary Design Review stage.(Note: this writer did not see either of the two earlier presentations or discussions.) 

The North Shattuck Safeway—“Safeway Store #0691” according to the design submittals—is located where the 1400 block of Shattuck Avenue curves into Henry Street along a stretch of roadway called “Shattuck Place” on land use maps. 

Henry Street forms the western border of the site. The odd configuration of the property—something of a triangle or leaf shape, pointing north, with a curve along the east side—is due to the fact that interurban railroad lines used to run north from Shattuck to the Solano Tunnel along the curve, bisecting an otherwise rectangular city block.After the train lines were removed their roadbed became the street. 

Along Shattuck, there’s a bank south of Safeway; along Henry, there’s an undeveloped lot dense with trees, followed by two houses on two lots.About five residential buildings, total, stand on four lots south of the Safeway. 

In the original design review submittal Safeway representatives said they wished to “expand and transform the Safeway Store at Shattuck Place and Henry Street into a new state-of-the-art Lifestyle store.” The expanded building would be about 46,000 square feet, nearly 18,000 square feet larger than the present structure. 

While the signature Safeway vaulted roof of the main building would remain, the expanded structure would be changed on all four sides with additions and façade remodels. Along Shattuck the existing small parking area would be replaced with a glassy façade following the curve of the sidewalk. 

Two large entrance portals, like modern versions of Neolithic triathlons, would front the main parking lot on the north, rising above the north façade. 

Safeway is asking the City for a zoning adjustment to expand its building into the southern portion of the unbuilt lot, removing most of the trees there in the process. 

During the presentation to the Commission, Price and Hill noted changes to the design since the last DRC meeting. They said the glass wall along Shattuck would be changed to transparent glass as requested by the Committee; the southernmost portion of the Shattuck façade would now function as “a big window” with “a monumental window box” according to Hill. 

The concrete base of portions of the building has been changed to board form concrete.The north elevation, facing the main parking lot, hasn’t been much changed according to the design team. 

However, along Henry Street on the west side of the site there have been several changes to the design.The vehicle and bicycle entry to the lower level parking garage has been “reduced as much as we can reduce it”, said Price.The façade will be treated with an anti-graffiti coating. The façade will include surface elements of a “resin material” and “composite wood material”. 

Hill said the landscaping at the southwest corner of the site where the addition would push out has been redesigned to “provide more variety, a community of plants rather than a hedge or screen.” 

Part of the landscape would feature “a Bay friendly elderberry hedge.”Along the south side of the site where the expanded building would face an adjacent house, “a continuous privacy screen planted with vines that would extent up above the window height” of that house would be planted, according to Hill. 

“Although nothing can replicate the way that the trees there look now we’re hoping that this variety of planting would give habitat for birds”, said Hill.“The idea is to provide only plants that would grow to their natural form” without needing pruning or shaping. 

The design team said “we’re going to keep all the plum trees in planters along Shattuck” and infill vacant spots.Three of the existing trees in the parking lot would be kept, others removed.Some new trees would be planted. 

The revised design presented proposed removal of the Monterey Pines at the northern tip of the parking lot and their replacement with a mounded area planted with natives. 

Since the DRC does not have purview of zoning issues, public comments and Committee discussion concentrated on the aesthetics of the design and the tree removal. 

During the public comment period on the Safeway development speakers, all of them neighbors, primarily from Henry Street, criticized the development. 

Andy Jokelson who said he lived “directly across from the back of Safeway” was concerned about graffiti on the new building walls, and presented the Commission with photographs of current graffiti.“It’s pretty awful at the moment.I’m pretty concerned it (the expanded building) will be a big, big, canvas for people to continue putting up graffiti.”He recommended a rough wall surface to deter tagging. 

“It’s going to be a huge warehouse coming just ten feet away from the property line of my house” said the next speaker, a neighbor who lives immediately to the south of the vacant lot which Safeway proposes to infill. 

“I’ll have no privacy anywhere in my backyard.” “The trees are at least 50 feet high right there even though no one has been taking care of the trees for years”, he said of the existing conditions on the lot. 

“My opposition is clear.I’m against the removal of the trees and any expansion on the lot next to my house.” 

“I really haven’t seen any changes” in the façade design he said of the new plans. “Why not try to make it more residential” on the rear corner?He suggested looking at some of the design of the Trader Joe’s infill at University Avenue and Martin Luther King, Jr. Way. 

The Safeway building should be “trying to be in tune a little more with the neighborhood.“I see a corporate look of the building.Nothing has changed.”“This is an invasion of my privacy…when it comes before the Planning Commission I’m hoping the zoning changes won’t be granted.” 

Harvey Sureback handed the Committee a petition against tree removal on the property which he said was “up to 200” signatures. “This grove of trees enriches the quality of our lives as well as the attractiveness of our neighborhood.”“My kitchen looks out on the trees.” 

“Safeway’s original slogan was ‘Since We’re Neighbors, Let’s Be Friends’,” Sureback said.“I don’t think they’re being very friendly.”Without the trees, “it starts looking like El Cerrito very fast,” he added. 

Linda Harris who lives on Henry Street complemented the revised plans in one respect, saying, “it does seem like we have a visual and acoustic shield for the HVAC system” on the roof.“I think it’s better but I don’t know it’s the best.Thank you Safeway for looking to that.” 

She asked that the enlarged building include electric service on the Henry Street side so noisy portable generators would not need to be used to operate power washers that periodically clean the exterior. 

Harris also asked that a retaining wall above Henry Street along the parking lot be preserved for visual privacy. “Basically the wall is the only haven than we have for successful co-habitation with Safeway” because it blocks some noise as well as car headlights from the parking lot. 

The wall “affords privacy, and keeps the feeling residential” she said. “It tends to keep the foot traffic organized.” 

As Harris was talking about the wall, the apparent Safeway representative in the rear of the room called out “All of these concerns we completely understand and have addressed.” 

“All of us in the neighborhood had hoped the loading area would be moved to Shattuck” from Henry Street, said another neighbor from Henry Street.He described the annoyance of truck back-up signals and airbrakes, “often from five in the morning until all hours of the night.” 

He asked the Committee and Safeway to do “whatever can be done to mitigate” and added, “graffiti is a big problem” and said “I’d rather have some green material going higher up that side along Henry Street.” 

Committee members commented next. 

Carrie Olson said she had just returned from a trip to Utah and criticized the stone veneer proposed for parts of the building.“You see a lot of this stone in Utah.It’s not Berkeley.I don’t find it a very Berkeley material.” 

She added, “I don’t think that what they’re proposing will prevent graffiti.” 

“The addition of transparent glass is a welcome sign” on the Shattuck frontage, she said, “but the pattern along Shattuck is still different from the rest of Shattuck” nearby. 

The Safeway façade on Shattuck “will most likely be dull and dead”, in comparison to the active commercial streetscape of smaller stores to the south and across Shattuck. 

“What creates vibrancy is a place where people can face each other and have a discussion,” she said, instead of having benches that line up facing the sidewalk. 

“The street front along Shattuck is far better than it was but still not something I support.” 

While “the landscaping (design) has made great strides”, Olson said, “I will never support this project with them taking out the trees and putting another piece of building there” at the southwest corner of the site. 

“I’m still concerned with the Henry Street side and the Shattuck Street front”, Committee member Bob Allen said.“A lot has been lost on the Henry Street front and you’re not putting anything back (by having) a concrete wall.” He said he didn’t like the board-form concrete wall proposal. 

On the north “the two things that really concern me are the big pseudo entries” and “the Safeway swoosh placed everywhere is really unnecessary.” Of the entries, he said, “you wonder what they’re supposed to be and they’re out of scale with everything on the street.I would be happy to see those two pseudo entries disappear.” 

He agreed with Olson on the stone veneer, saying, “I would really like to see a material other than ‘Safeway stone’.I know they insist on that, but we can insist otherwise.” 

Landscape architect Charles (Chuck) McCulloch weighed in next, encouraging more planting on the Henry Street walls to discourage graffiti.“Get lots of plants,” he urged.He suggested narrow shrubs that would naturally grow tall along the wall, and vines on the walls forming “green screens”. He said to the design team “you need to make a commitment to fix up that soil” on site, creating better growing conditions. 

The Shattuck frontage provides “a context to do more exuberant planting” he said.He suggested “smaller planters that provide interesting streetscape, visual form, not a series of monolithic plantings.” He suggested pulling back the Shattuck façade a bit at the south end of the building, removing the Safeway sign proposed there, and having some internal spaces and activities that abut the sidewalk. “You invest in the design to create active and special places.” 

“People would appreciate going that extra step, making this a building that it would be interesting to go into and come out of.” 

“I agree on the stone,” he said, echoing Olson and Allen. “That’s just not going to work.” 

“I’m glad you’re going to keep those big trees on the north”, he added. 

“I agree with a lot of Bob’s comments”, Committee member George Williams said.He liked the revisions to the windows along Shattuck.On the south of the site he emphasized that the project is “right next to a lot of single story residential buildings” and urged a design for the addition that is “more residential scale.Have a pitched roof…Have some windows so it doesn’t look like a warehouse.” 

He added, though that “Safeway has property rights as well” to propose building on the vacant lot and said there may be “lack of a realization (among neighbors) that many more trees are being saved than was originally proposed.” 

Architect Adam Woltag said, “I’d like to echo what Bob and Carrie have to say” about the design.He said the proposed design represents “large boxes” and is “architecturally responsive to a much larger, more suburban setting.” 

However, “I think there are some really nice things that have started to happen to the building” in the revised design. 

“I’m struggling with this building a lot”, Dave Blake said.“My wider perspective is that there is something that doesn’t love a parking lot and huge box grocery store.It’s not just the store, there’s something that’s very ‘un-Berkeley’ about it.” 

He noted that most of the rest of Shattuck Avenue in the vicinity has small, vertical, commercial spaces and joined Allen in criticizing the large arches proposed on the Safeway façade, saying “the problem is they have a monumental use.” 

“I can’t get over the frontage on Shattuck which is the thing that upsets me the most.I hope we continue to see work on it that makes it more of a human level.” 

He suggested that there was an opportunity on Henry Street to take away the parking lot entrance, and that vehicles could enter the parking lot from Shattuck and exit on the Henry side, decreasing the number of vehicles using Henry. 

Committee chair and architect Jim Goring said he thought the idea of eliminating a parking entrance on Henry Street was interesting, and that he thought the vacant lot was developable by Safeway. 

While he disagreed with other Committee members on one of the façade materials--“I really do love board form concrete”—he added his voice to those against a fake stone exterior.“There’s something very un-Berkeley about cultured stone. Real stone is beautiful.” 

Overall, he said, he didn’t want “something that looks like we just airlifted a piece of Moraga” into Berkeley. 

“I’m glad to see clear glass like everyone else” on the Shattuck façade, Goring added.“I think the Shattuck Street elevation has taken a big leap forward.”“More Herzog and de Meuron, less Ace Architects” he summed up, comparing the designers of the De Young Museum with the Oakland based firm once known for its commercial buildings with dramatic, over-scaled, elements. 

Goring concluded by saying “I don’t know how we’re going to wrap things up coherently.You (the design team) haven’t gotten the ‘Gee, it’s great’,” from the Committee. 

After further discussion, the Committee voted, on Allen’s motion, to continue the discussion to a future meeting. The Safeway representatives said they were planning to talk with City staff to get the review of the zoning issues scheduled. 

A City decision on the zoning adjustment issue will add clarity to the DRC discussion, determining whether Safeway has a right to expand onto the vacant lot to the Southwest. 


St. Mark’s Infill Project 

After a break the Committee took up, for the first time, discussion of a planned infill building on the parking garage site of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. The Church building is on Bancroft east of Ellsworth.The infill site is the one story church parking structure to the south, extending to the corner of Durant and Ellsworth. 

The parking structure is topped by an open courtyard, partially used as a play yard, a two story building currently rented to a private school, and a one story, free standing, parish hall designed in the 1980s by architect David Baker. The proposed project would demolish garage and both buildings on top, construct a new one level parking garage, and add a new free standing one story parish hall and a four story infill housing development on top of it. 

The Landmarks Preservation Commission had seen a presentation of the design and made initial comments at its May meeting.(This author wrote about the Landmarks Commission comments on this proposal in the May 11, 2010 edition of the Planet.) 

Architect Erick Mikiten of Mikiten Architecture and developer Evan McDonald of Hudson McDonald presented the proposed project. Hudson McDonald has an agreement with St. Mark’s Church and would build the infill project. 

St. Mark’s would control the new community house atop the parking podium and use the parking on Sundays, and the developer would operate the infill housing and parking garage. 

“Two years ago St. Mark’s approached my firm with a goal of how to generate an ongoing stream of revenue”, McDonald told the RC.The church faces the “double whammy of decreasing membership and increasing capital costs. 

The project would involve a 90-year ground lease of the property to Hudson McDonald.At the end, St. Mark’s would own the improvements; during the term of the lease, “the revenue for St. Mark’s is critical”, said McDonald. 

Mikiten lead off the design presentation showing a series of images of developments by his firm in Alameda, and noting, “our intention is that this building will be a very ‘green’ building.” 

He then discussed functional, context, and design goals. 

“St Mark’s Church had a set of requirements and goals”.They needed a parish hall for “events outside, adjacent to the church”, wanted to replace the existing parking garage which is “structurally unsound” and “to remove the school that’s up on top.” 

The housing goals for the project include 44 units of “dorm style apartments”, with “four small bedrooms per suite.”Each unit would have a small kitchenette area, and each floor would have a common kitchen and lounge area. 

The context of the site, Mikiten said, involves both “both site specific and thinking about a broader Berkeley vocabulary.”On top of the new one level parking garage would be “open space with green opening to the community” on the Ellsworth side around the parish house structure, and a buffer space of green between the parish house and the “L” shaped housing building. 

This arrangement of one-story parish house and courtyards on the northwest corner of the site “pulls the mass away from St. Mark’s” he said. 

Along Durant Avenue, the development would be “continuing the pattern of the long façade set up by the (Berkeley) City Club” to the east. 

Mikiten said both the St. Mark’s main sanctuary and the City Club are “very planar buildings, both simple in their materiality.” 

He then showed images of “other buildings we’re also considering that create a certain vocabulary and character” to influence the design of the new development. The images included the Faculty Club on the UC Berkeley campus, the new Berkeley Hills fire station off Grizzly Peak Boulevard, the Haas Business School complex on the campus, Berkeley’s First Church of Christ, Scientist, and the University’s Clark Kerr Campus. 

The new building would have a clay tile roof edge and natural wood arbor, and “painted board form concrete at the street front façade.”There would be planters along Durant, “metal, Corten (steel)”, and painted wood fascia boards and rafter tails at the top of the building. 

Mikiten said, “there are no windows anywhere along the back” (east side) of the new parish hall so the users there wouldn’t look directly into the first floor windows of the new housing opposite. The landscape would be ornamental only in the space between the buildings, “none of the residents or the church members will be able to get into this interstitial space. 

It’s strictly a buffer landscape”, unlike the terrace serving the parish hall on the other sides, including Ellsworth.Along Ellsworth the terrace would overlook the street from the roof of the parking structure.“The Church wanted that connection to the community”, Mikiten said. 

Aditya Avanti from Royston Hanamoto Alley & Abey, the project landscape architects, then briefly outlined the current landscape concept. 

“Our goal for this project was to connect people with nature”, he said.The landscape would create spaces for interaction and gathering and a landscape “beautiful, soft, intimate, interesting, contemplative, varied.” 

“We want to create a garden that can be appreciated a key human scale.” 

Avanti noted that there are “a couple of cedar trees that need to be removed to create the corner” of the site at Durant and Ellsworth.The project proposes to plant five gingko trees along the Durant frontage as street trees. There would be a rooftop garden on the four story housing building, “a very large space” that would function as a ‘living room’, sunbathing area, outdoor deck for the residents. Plants would be “low maintenance, providing a lot of interest and color.” 

Mikiten said the design of the project should convey “a sense in the building of solidity”, with “planar aspects, thick-walled aspects.”Portions of the building façade would be covered in “Corten EVP”, “a painted facsimile of Corten” steel; “it’s very convincing when it’s up”, he told the DRC, noting the material does not stain or rust. 

The building would have a corner tower at Durant and Ellsworth.“By not being a tall tower, it’s not competing” with the Berkeley City Club but “it is holding the corner…terminating the building nicely at this point.” 

Lighting on the exterior would be “low key fixtures”, probably using “copper fixtures that are shiny against the building.” 

The Committee began its discussion with questions about the nature of the agreement between developer and church.“The Church is ground leasing the land to us”, said McDonald. “At the end of the ground lease they get it all.” 

Blake commented on the parking arrangement, suggesting that the use permit for the project should “immortalize” hours of operation for the public rental of the garage spaces. 

Committee members next heard from public comment.There were two speakers, this author, and Celia McCarthy representing the Landmark Heritage Foundation at the Berkeley City Club. 

I told the Committee that: the building was a good design for an infill along one of Berkeley’s avenues but that this block and site calls for a different sort of development, more articulated in massing, with setbacks from the street. I said the building should be set back at least to the façade line of the adjacent City Club along Durant and criticized placing a solid mass of structure all along the Durant frontage, while the new St. Mark’s parish house would be a single-story, free standing building on the parking podium. 

I suggested that the parish house could be pulled into the ground floor of the residential tower creating more useable courtyard space, and the west wing of the tower could be pulled north from the Durant / Ellsworth corner, leaving the mature deodar cedar trees on the corner between street and building. I said that a corner entrance for the residential tower was not suitable for this block, and suggested the residential entrance be moved to either the Ellsworth or Durant frontage. 

I argued that insisting on using the current footprint of the existing garage as the base of the new parking structure and building podium would carry over one of the worst current site features—a mid-20th century parking lot—into the siting of the new development. 

Celia McCarthy read a statement from the Landmark Heritage Foundation saying, “We agree that the proposed design looks like it could be anywhere and does not reflect the visual character of this very special block of Berkeley.” 

“We also agree that setbacks that would at least pull the proposed building’s Durant Avenue façade back to the same point as the Berkeley City Club façade would be an important gesture of deference to the historic Berkeley City Club building.” 

McCarthy criticized a cultural resources analysis letter provided by the developer for the DRC packet, saying that it was wrong to assume “that the west-facing elevation of the (City Club) was design in anticipation that another building would eventually be constructed to the property line on the adjacent lot.” 

“The building site was chosen, in part, to provide a refuge from urban development”, McCarthy said.She quoted from a City Club publication of 1928 that read, “One of the factors which influenced the choice of this site is that adjoining property is permanently improved.We are thus assured that view and sunlight will not be shut off by the erection of another large building adjacent to our property.” 

At that time, four large freestanding houses stood on the current site of the St. Mark’s parking structure. 

“We have requested that the developer install story poles to help us better understand the effects of the project on views from the BCC and shadows on the BCC and its gardens”, McCarthy added. 

“We urge you to send this proposal back to the architect with instructions to develop a design that relates better to the historic buildings on the block,” she concluded. 

Committee discussion followed. 

“This is not your average site”, said Carrie Olson.“It happens to abut historic buildings on both sides.”She noted the St. Mark’s church sanctuary was Berkeley’s first Mission Revival building, dating to 1902, and also reflected Moorish elements that disappeared in later, local, Mission style development. 

“You have two beautiful buildings next door”.They have “simple facades in contrast to this (proposed) building.”“Whatever is built here should be respectful to these two beautiful bookends.” 

Olson said the proposed new development “should certainly be set back along Durant.”“If the view of the City Club is blocked because the building comes out further than the City Club (towards Durant), it’s a shame.” 

Olson suggested that the DRC visit the City Club to assess the site from that building, although she noted, “the issue of setback is going to be the Zoning Adjustment Board’s decision.” 

She also clarified one suggestion made at the Landmarks Preservation Commission about the parish house, noting that some Commissioners had suggested it could be a two-story building rather than a one-story structure. 

“We have worked on a number of projects where sizeable additions were put on to historic buildings”, Olson said.All of those involved a parallel restoration of the historic building, meaning, “the increased usage on the parcel was off-set by restoration of the historic building”. 

She said she didn’t see a clear connection proposed between restoring the historic St. Mark’s buildings and the proposed infill development at this site. 

In regard to the design of the infill housing, “I don’t feel a tower is warranted on this corner” of Durant and Ellsworth, Olson said.“I feel metal paneling is absolutely inappropriate for this site.”She suggested the roof garden could be brought down to the podium level of the development. 

“I agree it ought to be a background building,” George Williams said.“I think it should be set back to the depth of the west wing of the City Club”. He suggested the infill housing building be “notched” at the proposed balconies to provide more variation in the façade. 

He suggested the developer “treat the (Durant / Ellsworth) corner almost as a separate building” from a design standpoint, and said regarding the proposed design, “it looks like what it is, a college dorm.”“There are too many materials, the color contrast is too great.”“The colors ought to be more muted.”He disagreed with a tile edge to the roof, saying that would compete with the roof of the City Club. 

“The street face of the garage façade, that’s really going to be deadly walking along that street”, Allen said. “I don’t have a solution for you, I know it’s a problem for me.It’s going to make it an unpleasant pedestrian exposure.” 

Architect Woltag said the proposed design “missed the opportunity to respect the neighbors.”He asked if the garage parking layout could be redesigned to allow for pushing the building back from Durant.He expressed concern about having a trash room on the ground floor near the Durant / Ellsworth corner and said he would “echo the comments about the sidewalk meeting that solid wall” of the garage along the street. 

He said that the Julia Morgan design for the Berkeley City Club “does windows wonderfully” and provides a good example. 

Dave Blake said, “I do feel that the building does really stand out instead of slipping back into the background” and suggested the building should say, ‘I’m here, but please look around me’, instead. 

The tower corner top was “too sharp” in his view and “I would like to not see the entrance on the corner.”“I’d like to see the entrance elegant and done on a flat surface along Ellsworth or Durant.” 

Blake did praise the interior layout of the housing, but asked about the bedroom size. The development team said there were private bedrooms and they would be 8 x 11 feet, in general.Blake said that was “touching the edge of accessibility.Very small.” 

“I love your open spaces”, he added.“I love that every floor has resident lounges.I think this is really thought through, as for use.” 

He suggested that the street frontage would provide an opportunity to involve a metal artist in designing site-specific features, “a design that tells more of a story”, rather than repetitive metal elements. 

He said the site presented a major challenge.“How would you feel to have to build next to Julia Morgan?It’s intimidating.” 

McCulloch asked about the footprint of the building. 

“When you start getting into a “T” shaped building it makes the parking not work below because you have to have those functions (from above) come down”, Mikiten said. 

McCulloch asked if “the option of having an entrance off of Ellsworth or Durant just doesn’t work well?” McDonald shook his head in apparent agreement. 

McCulloch asked that the design bring more detailing down to the ground plane along the street.“It would be nice to have some nice details that you can actually see as you walk along the street.” 

He said, “I don’t really like that Corten planter you have on Durant, that’s just the wrong place”, and asked if the design team had talked yet with the City of Berkeley about street tree species. He said the species proposed on the Ellsworth Street frontage is “way too small, and too out of scale” for the building.Along Durant, “I would look at a faster growing, taller street tree”, not ginkgos, he added.“I’m looking for something that is faster growing like red maples.It’s too bad we can’t use liquid ambers any more.” 

“Having some big trees, some fast growing trees is going to be really good for the street scene.” 

He added, “I wish there was a way you didn’t have to enter on the corner” of the intersection. 

He praised the large arbor proposed for the top of the podium along part of Ellsworth saying he was glad it wasn’t “this little furtive thing up there warping in the breeze.” 

McCulloch noted that the City Club, as it rises, has slight setbacks at various levels. “It’s almost never in the cards with stacked (housing) units”, Mikiten answered. 

Architect Goring started off his comments saying, “I think Mr. Finacom gave a spectacularly good summary of the issues with this building, so I’m going to repeat them.” 

“The massing of the building is disrespectful to the site”. The building should be “setting back where it has to set back.” 

Noting to McDonald “you’ve got a great architect” in Mikiten, he said the building could either be “something spectacular” and modern and distinctive or “defer” to the surroundings, but the proposed design does neither. 

He observed “somehow we’re ‘landmarked’ a parking podium” because the new project occupies the old footprint, and “there’s certainly no reason we have to rebuild David Baker’s weirdly proportioned building”, referring to the current parish house atop the parking structure. 

“I hope by the next time (the project) comes back to this group it’s a different building.” 

Bob Allen said at “both St. Mark’s and the City Club the material comes right down to the ground”, rather than sitting atop a parking podium.“Exposing the podium at the ground floor of this building is a huge mistake.”

Along Ellsworth, he said, “I think the connection between the church and the (new) buildings is very nice” in the design, but placing the buildings on the parking podium “is really awkward.” 

He suggested that there could be openings in the podium level from the outside to the garage and said, “my druthers would be that the Durant Avenue façade sets back”, at least at the “last bay” of the new building where it comes closest to the City Club. 

Regarding street trees he urged, “reinforcing what’s there, not something new” and encouraged a strengthened allee of street trees along Durant. 

“I agree about the corner entry”, he said.“It’s very weak”.He suggested that it be shifted off the corner. He said the landscaped space between parish house and housing structure without access was “weird.” 

“For the program, I think the student housing looks very nice”, Allen, said.“The rest of the building is just too many materials and too many ideas and not very gutsy.” However, referencing Goring’s comment about a design that could be very modern, he said, “I wouldn’t buy into something totally different”. 

The Committee voted to continue the item to a future meeting. After some back and forth discussion about whether the developer and design team had enough direction from the Committee, the members decided not to offer a motion trying to summarize specific suggestions. 

Committee staffer Anne Burns assured the Committee “we have a lot” from the discussion to convey to the design team. 


Other Items 

At the end of the meeting there was a brief exchange about the powers of the DRC to regulate ongoing changes to buildings with approved designs. 

Dave Blake noted that the ArtTech building at Milvia and Addison had been painted in a new color scheme, and asked if the DRC had the power to review changes like that.The answer was no in most cases. 

Blake said “what’s the point of design review if they can do those hideous colors” in a repainting job, after the DRC had approved a color scheme when the building was constructed.The repainting has green, yellow, and red elements. 

Burns said she did know of one example of a commercial building on Shattuck where a requirement that repainting come back to the DRC was written into the zoning approvals 

(Steven Finacom has written frequently for the Daily Planet on historical and planning topics.As noted in the text, he made comments to the Design Review Committee about the St. Mark’s development described in this article.)