Public Comment

Open Letter to Berkeley Design Review Committee about Durant Avenue Dorm Project Proposal

By Stephen Stine
Friday July 20, 2012 - 11:18:00 AM

Hello Ann Burns and the City of Berkeley Design Review Committee, 

I have some comments for the Design Review Committee regarding the proposed project at 2024 Durant Avenue/2025 Channing Way (DR#12-30000021). 

Regarding the proposed project: 

--There is a low income senior housing residence at 2020 Durant, right next to the 2024 Durant lot. The residence, named Stuart Pratt Manor, is run by Satellite Housing. 

--I don't see any mention or consideration in the project planning materials or in the Design Review Committee staff report of the fact that a senior housing residence is right next to the proposed project site. The proposed project would house up to 200 students; the proposal amounts to a request to build a student dormitory right next door to an existing senior housing residence. Seniors are a vulnerable population with special needs for peace, quiet, and safety, and their quality of life would be significantly reduced by the current design of the project proposed for 2024 Durant. 

--To maintain the quality of life and safety of the 2020 Durant senior residents, the committee should reject the proposed rooftop deck on the 2024 Durant unit. Rooftop decks would be used by the students for social gatherings, conversations, and parties, which can be expected to generate levels of noise which would disturb the seniors at 2020 Durant. Furthermore, the roof top deck should be rejected so that the seniors can preserve their privacy and not worry about keeping their curtains closed, which they might be compelled to do if students had access to a roof top deck. 

--The committee should also reject plans to build balconies on the west face of the 2024 Durant unit, so that the seniors will not be subjected to noise from students conversing on the balconies. Furthermore, the balconies should be rejected so that the seniors can preserve their privacy and not worry about keeping their curtains closed, which they might be compelled to do if students had balconies facing the seniors' apartments. 

--The committee should allot more than 38 parking spaces to the proposed project. The committee should commission a parking impact study for the neighborhood. Even before adding an additional 200 student residents and their visitors to the neighborhood if the proposed project is approved, parking can be very hard to find in the area, especially on Durant between Milvia and Shattuck. This impacts visitors of the seniors at 2020 Durant negatively--it can be hard for visitors to visit the seniors or transport the seniors to and from a vehicle to take them on excursions from their apartments, as parking is hard to find. These excursions are often necessary and vital, such as going to medical appointments. Other excursions are necessary for the mental well-being of the residents, and decreased parking could discourage friends and families from visiting the seniors. There is doubt among neighbors that 38 parking spaces is sufficient for 200 students--more spaces should be allotted so that visitors to the student residents can park in the garage, to avoid making the current lack of parking availability in the neighborhood worse. 

--The committee should reject the current design of the proposed project's parking garage, which currently has an entrance and exit planned only on Durant. An additional entrance and exit to the parking garage should be added on Channing. Having only one entrance and exit, on Durant, would mean that all vehicle traffic to and from the parking garage would be on Durant, right next door to the senior housing residence at 2020 Durant. This concentration of traffic right next door to the 2020 Durant senior home would endanger the seniors as they walk on the sidewalk to and from their senior home, and would concentrate traffic noise right next door to the senior home. The committee should require two entrances and exits to the parking garage, one on Channing and one on Durant. 

--The committee should reject the proposed six story elevation of the 2024 Durant unit. The six story section of the 2024 Durant unit would be at least 8 feet taller, perhaps much more on average, than the senior housing residence at 2020 Durant. This would decrease the amount of light received by the 2020 Durant senior residents, which would decrease their quality of life. The owner of the 2025 Channing lot created a restriction so that any building on the lot can only be four stories tall--ideally, such a restriction should be placed on the 2024 Durant lot so that the seniors in the 2020 Durant building do not have another building next door completely towering over them. Additionally, the seniors in 2020 Durant will completely lose their east-facing views if the 2024 Durant unit is allowed to be six stories. 

Special consideration should be given to the senior housing residence at 2020 Durant due to the vulnerable nature of the senior population and the seniors' special needs for peace, quiet, safety, and routine visits from friends, family, and other caregivers. These needs can be very easily and predictably negatively impacted by a six-story dorm housing 200 students, which is proposed for construction at 2024 Durant and 2025 Channing. 

To mitigate any negative effects on the seniors living at 2020 Durant, please modify the proposal as I have outlined above. The proposed project needs to be designed in such a manner so that students or other residents at 2024 Durant and the seniors at 2020 Durant can co-exist without one population decreasing the quality of life of the other population. The current design for a student population, with proposed roof top decks, west-facing balconies, a six story elevation, only 38 parking spaces for 200 student residents, and only one entrance and exit to the parking garage on Durant, will significantly decrease the quality of life of the seniors at 2020 Durant. 

Please notify me by email regarding further public hearings and other action on the 2024 Durant/2025 Channing proposal. I would also request the city to lengthen the notification period for public hearings. The notice for the 7/19/2012 public hearing was posted on a yellow project proposal board on the 2024 Durant site on Friday, 7/13/2012, and the meeting is scheduled for Thursday, 7/19/2012. One week of notice is insufficient for members of the public to learn of a public hearing and prepare comments. I am requesting that at least two weeks of notice be required between the time the date of a public hearing is posted and the actual scheduled date of the hearing. 

Furthermore, please consider constructing single webpages for project proposals on the city website which include permit applications and Design Review Committee notices, with the option to subscribe to updates via email. Currently the permit application materials and Design Review Committee notices are on separate pages on the city website, with no option to be notified automatically by email when new relevant materials and public hearing dates are scheduled. 

Referenced documents: 

Staff report and other materials 

Letter from owners of 2024 Durant, August 2011