Public Comment

Objections to Lau Project Not Given to ZAB

By Lorna Kollmeyer
Tuesday July 20, 2010 - 12:53:00 PM

I am the neighbor to the east of Ryan Lau's property, and have been expressing my husband's and my objection to his project since, after reading Fred Dodsworth's article in the Planet, we finally became aware of what he was actually up to. I requested that this case be heard directly by the ZAB, and it shall be, this Thursday evening. I find it quite disconcerting that in the findings sent out by the planning department, which unfortunately recommend full approval of his project, that there were omissions in the package sent out to the board for review, as well as in what is posted on the ZAB website.


I wrote an initial letter, which is contained in the package; it was followed by a second letter which appealed for a hearing, more clearly elucidated our concerns, and most importantly, was assented to in separate letters by three of the closest neighbors on Carleton Street. This second letter, as well as those of the neighbors, were not included for review in the package, as I had been assured by the planning department they would be, and in the findings it appears, erroneously, that I am the lone neighbor who is in opposition to Ryan Lau's project. I am sending you a copy of that second letter, in hopes that you might post it for perusal by the citizenry of Berkeley.  


To: Debra Sanderson 

Zoning Officer 

2120 Milvia 

Berkeley, California 


From: Lorna Kollmeyer 

1440 Carleton Street 

Berkeley, California 94702 

RE: AUP Application for Ryan Lau, 2nd Letter 

Date: April 18, 2010 


Dear Ms. Sanderson,  

I am writing on behalf of myself and my husband, David Jones, to request that Ryan Lau's application for Administrative Use Permits be elevated from a staff decision to that of a decision, with a public hearing, by the Zoning Adjustments Board, as, after speaking with the planning department, it is my understanding that this is the strongest gesture we can make to incorporate our opposition to this project into its permanent record, and to insure that our concerns are addressed.  

Let me clearly state that we fully respect Ryan's right to have an accessory structure which, by conforming to all zoning restrictions, as a citizen of Berkeley he is allowed to have and fully enjoy. Ryan however, built an unpermitted structure which in at least three ways exceeds what he could have built by right, and for which he would have needed to seek Administrative Use Permits, which obviously involve the awareness and consent of his neighbors. Had we been granted the respect of seeing Ryan's plans, we would have voiced from the start our opposition to a structure which, at 42' long, is almost double that which is allowed by right, and which, with a half bath, will no longer serve as a garage, but as a unit suitable for long-term accommodation.  

My husband and I have already been mislead by Ryan as to the intended scope and use of the structure, and therefore, as much as we would like to trust what he says are his stated intentions, have a healthy skepticism as to what the reality of those intentions might be, as well as the intentions of subsequent owners of the property which could adversely affect our home. By nature of its size alone, in addition to containing a toilet, this structure has the potential to invite habitation by numerous persons, and despite the only reassurance we are offered - that there will be a deed restriction on the property - we would have a nightmare on our hands if we were to try to stop an illegal tenancy. Trying to prove that a long term "roommate" or "guest" is indeed in violation of the intended use of this building would involve a long, miserable and costly process of private investigation and legal proceedings. In fact, we were informed by an eviction attorney that we would indeed have no recourse whatsoever to try to evict someone from that structure, since we are not the owners of 1436.  

It is for this reason that we call upon the Board to help us do everything we can right now to insure that this situation will never arise. We understand that the ZAB cannot deny Ryan a permit based on "potential" use, or incorporate any enforceable stipulation of usage, such as overnight sleeping; but you do have ultimate say over what he can build, down to the details of its physical characteristics. Since Ryan so egregiously disregarded the law in building an oversized structure easily large enough to function as a second residential unit, and in light of the history of his initial intention for illegal usage, we find it appropriate that the Board consider that he may have forfeited his right to have everything in his accessory building exactly as he would have liked, had he started out following the proper permitting process.  

It seems fair and appropriate for us to request that Ryan either tear down his structure and start over, or at least reduce its footprint to an acceptable size; however, in the spirit of compromise, we would be willing to withdraw our opposition to his building's size if the following physical reconfigurations are demanded of him by the Board:  

1) First, and of utmost importance, that the toilet be eliminated, and the four-inch sewer line be physically excavated and removed well away from the building.  

2) That the size of the hot water heater be reduced to one much smaller, suitable for a small sink and shower, in lieu of the one he plans to, or has already installed, which has the capacity to provide unlimited hot water for an entire home.  

3) That the inside access of the "work room" be sealed off from the "office" preferably in some manner more difficult to remove than the usual studs and sheetrock, such as cinderblock, to make it harder to function as a back bedroom.  

4) That, if the existing structure is allowed under the terms above, there be a deed restriction for 1436 Carleton in place stipulating that there can never be a toilet in the accessory building, without reducing the footprint of the structure.  

We want to do everything we can to put our opposition to this project on record, and glean as much reassurance from the City of Berkeley that this structure will never become a dwelling unit, either legal or illegal; that to do so everything will be done now to change its physical configuration to make it as difficult as possible to reconvert it to an illegal unit; and that the Board will incorporate language into this permit which will add ultimate clarity as to the allowable use of this structure, so that down the road, if and when we suspect illegal usage, the recourse of code enforcement might be less problematic. 

I close by stating that it is sad that, had we been consulted truthfully about this project up front, we would have had the opportunity to voice our concerns, deal with this in an efficient and neighborly way, save us hours of distress and distraction, and achieve an equitable compromise; but we were not granted that respect. It is distressing to think that Ryan could build whatever he pleases, with no regard for the law or the concerns of his neighbors, and by merely weathering the hassle and paying the fines, end up with exactly what he wants. I am certain the Zoning Adjustments Board will not want to set a precedent of rewarding such behavior, and will find it prudent to incorporate our suggestions of compromise into its decision, as our only chance of having any say in a matter so close to our home is woefully after the fact of this building's construction. 


Lorna Kollmeyer 


cc: Ryan Lau, Greg Heidenreich, Jason Kaldis