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Developer Asks ZAB To Weigh Blood House Move

Tuesday June 15, 2004

The next move in the struggle over Berkeley’s troubled Blood House may be a physical move from its present location. 

That’s what a majority of Zoning Adjustment Board members hinted Thursday night when the Blood House made its fifteenth appearance on ZAB’s agenda, two days short of a year since the first hearing on the historic house’s future. 

Though no formal proposal was on the table, ZAB members indicated they’d look favorably on plans to move the house, provided the new location proves suitable and the historic structure is restored. 

The city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) designated the 1891 Queen Anne Victorian a Structure of Merit five years ago—a move that places formidable obstacles in the path of anyone intent on tearing it down. 

Developer Ruegg & Ellsworth wants to build a five-story, 44-unit apartment complex at the Blood House’s current location at 2526 Durant Ave., but plans to demolish the 113-year-old dwelling foundered on strong opposition from preservationists. 

On March 13, ZAB members voted unanimously to deny demolition of the house and signaled they wouldn’t look favorably on any plans that didn’t spare the dwelling—leading to Thursday night’s new proposal. 

The move was floated jointly by Brendan Heafey, project manager for developer Ruegg & Ellsworth, and Burton Edwards, an architect who recently resigned from the LPC. Edwards was speaking in his capacity as a consultant to Berkeley real estate seller and developer John Gordon. 

Gordon proposes to relocate two landmarked houses onto two lots he owns at Dwight Way and Regent Street, a block north of Telegraph Avenue. The property currently houses a parking lot and a small structure. 

Besides the Blood House, Douglas proposes to bring in the UC-owned John Woolley House—now at 2509 Haste St. and adjacent to People’s Park—which dates from 1876 and is on the California State Historic Resources Inventory. It would be the first move for the Blood House and the second for the Woolley home, Edwards said. 

“We request that ZAB consider the lot a suitable location. That’s all we’re asking tonight,” Heafey said. “We’re just testing the waters.” 

Debra Sanderson, the city principal planner advising ZAB, said she couldn’t make any recommendations because neither Ruegg & Ellsworth or Gordon had submitted anything to city staff. 

Before Heafey had even risen to declare “I’m happy to report we’ve found a way to save the Blood House,” preservationist Doug Buckwald—who lives just three blocks from the house—had already risen to protest the idea of a move, which he said would diminish the historic character of the neighborhood. 

Heafey said Gordon first suggested to him that the Blood House moved on March 24, when both were attending a convention in Monterey. He said the option to move the home “has been available all along in the Environmental Impact Report” prepared for the original project. 

Heafey said the developers had already received assurances from movers and public utilities with wires and cables along the path of the move that the house could be safely transported down city streets once its roof was removed. 

“At the end of the day you get a house that’s moved three blocks south and restored by a respected preservation architect,” Heafey said, calling his solution “a pretty neat concept.” 

Edwards told ZAB members that Gordon plans to convert both houses into multiple residential units, with the final number to be decided by economic factors. “It could require some addition to the Blood House,” he acknowledged. 

The degree of restoration of the Blood House depends on finances and on the amount of original detail still present beneath a stucco finish that was added sometime after the house was first built, Edwards said. 

The architect also acknowledged that Gordon would need zoning variances to site the two structures on a pair of lots totaling 5,800 square feet. 

ZAB member Laurie Capitelli said he’d want to make sure that any permit to building the new apartment complex was contingent on a simultaneous approval for the Blood House move. 

One possible glitch is that Douglas’ lots may be substandard for houses as large as he proposes to site on them. 

“We need to analyze the property under” the California Environmental Quality Act “and our zoning ordinances to see how it fits under them,” Sanderson said. But that can’t happen until the developers submit a formal proposal. 

Under CEQA, moving a historic structure is equivalent to demolition and constitutes an alternative available only if there are no other options to keep the building intact. 

Three months ago, the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association submitted an alternative proposal to leave the house on its original site, subdividing it into five apartments and adding an L-shaped 35-unit building nearby on the same lot.  

Developer Patrick Kennedy, who had earlier praised the concept, rose Thursday night to endorse the proposed move and declare that the BAHA plan “does not work financially. I am confident it will never get built.” 

Kennedy also said he didn’t favor limiting the move to the Dwight and Regent property “because that gives John Gordon too much power in this decision, and it might cause the deal to go sideways.” 

Gordon handles many of the commercial leases in Kennedy’s own mixed-used projects. 

Several prominent preservationists rose to attack the proposed move. 

Sharon Hudson said “the developers and the university have come up with a plan that furthers all their development desires and the Blood House is a pawn,” and declared that “we should not be playing musical chairs with our historic buildings except in the most extreme circumstances.” 

BAHA President Wendy Markel said the house “shouldn’t be moved,” but retained on site “as an example of what used to be in that neighborhood.” 

Lesley Emmington Jones, a member of the Landmarks Preservation Commission and a BAHA staffer, complained that the landmarks panel wasn’t being kept in the loop. She also requested financial projections demonstrating the developers’ claims that the Durant Street project would fail unless the Blood House is moved. 

Heafey and Rick Spickert of Oliver & Co., a construction firm, said their analysis showed that the project wouldn’t work without a move. 

By the time the hearing drew to an end, only ZAB member Carrie Sprague was voicing unequivocal opposition to a Blood House relocation, with the other members indicating they’d look favorably on a proposal that guaranteed a move. 

Member Dave Blake said any proposal he could accept would have to include secure funding for restoration. 

Though member Christina Tiedemann said she wasn’t pleased to be asked to consider a move without having more information on the BAHA proposal, she said “moving could be a terrific solution.” 

Sanderson said a mitigation measure in the project EIR would allow the developer to make the house available for a move by another developer, but she couldn’t comment further until city staff had a firm proposal in hand. 

At Sanderson’s urging, the Blood House was removed from ZAB’s calendar until such time as the developers return with a firm proposal. 


This report was based on a video recording of the ZAB meeting. i