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State Agency Challenges Ed Roberts Campus Plan: By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Friday November 19, 2004

Three days after the Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board approved construction of the Ed Roberts Campus in South Berkeley, the project has been challenged by a state agency, questioning its fit in a historic area. 

Overriding the pleas of residents worried about parking problems and the intrusion of “airport terminal” architecture in their South Berkeley neighborhood, Berkeley’s Zoning Adjustments Board Monday approved construction of the Ed Roberts Campus (ERC). 

The new facility, named for a noted Berkeley disability rights activist, will house a consortium of organizations serving the needs of the disabled in a modernist two-story building at 3075 Adeline St. 

But California state Historic Preservation Officer Milford Wayne Donaldson sent a pointed letter to Berkeley Planning Director Dan Marks, criticizing the city for failing to respond to a letter he sent 13 months ago challenging the project. 

While the city determined that the project would have no impact on historical resources in the area, the state Office of Historic Preservation “did not concur with the city’s determination, and raised a number of issues and questions,” Donaldson wrote in a Nov. 17 letter. 

“We are concerned about the length of time that has passed since we provided the city with our comments. We are also concerned by the questions raised by the public regarding the city’s planning and environmental review efforts,” he wrote. 

“What is the status of the project? When may we receive a response from the city to our letter of Oct. 21, 2003?” 

Approval by the state agency is critical for the project if they are to receive federal funds, which center officials have said are integral to their plans. 

Jan Garrett, president of the ERC board of directors and executive director of the Center for Independent Living, an affiliated organization, said late Thursday that she was not aware of the letter. 

“I’ll probably be finding out more about it tomorrow,” she said after a reporter read her the document. 

Garrett said ERC had commissioned a study by architectural experts which concluded that the new building wouldn’t conflict with the neighborhood. 

“”We are willing to meet with anyone to resolve the issue,” she said. 

Provided the building wins state approval, she anticipates groundbreaking would take place in late 2006 and completion would follow within two years.  

The center will provide training for the disabled and office space for disability rights, job training and related programs. 

The new structure would replace the Ashby BART Station facility on the eastern side of Adeline with an 80,000-square-foot building a lot bounded by Tremont and Adeline streets on the east and west and Essex and Woolsey streets on the north and south. 

Unlike earlier ZAB meetings, where Ed Roberts supporters packed the meeting rooms, wearing badges dispensed by the organization’s hired PR specialist, the presence at Monday’s ZAB meeting was much more subdued.  

The larger turnout came from neighbors who objected not to the presence of the center in their community, but to its appearance and anticipated parking problems. 

Neighbors said the design failed to fit in with a community dominated by turn of the century and early 20th century homes and commercial buildings—a concern the state agency had also raised. 

“No one’s saying the building shouldn’t be welcoming and open, but there are better designs,” said Erica Cleary, a Prince Street resident who lives less than a block from the site. As Cleary spoke, other neighbors held aloft photos of other buildings in the neighborhood as a contrast. 

“We have a wonderful diversity of designs in our neighborhood. The one thing we don’t have is anything that resembles this design. It doesn’t fit in,” said Adam Cash. 

“My biggest objection is the airline terminal look of the front of the building,” said Toby Holt. “We need a compromise to make it look less modern. Take a look down Adeline and see if there are any other airline terminals.” 

Victoria Ortiz, who lives nearby on Shattuck Avenue, begged ZAB members not to adopt the mitigated negative declaration that would exempt the project from a full-scale Environmental Impact Report. 

“It has too many problems, especially parking,” she said. “The Planning Department has to take into account how many cars are going to be coming into our neighborhood and taking our parking spots.” 

The handicapped plates and placards used by many of the center’s clients and employees are exempt from the two-hour limits in the residential preferred parking zones in the area. 

When it came time for a vote, only ZAB members Dean Metzger and Andy Katz vote against the mitigated negative declaration, with David Blake abstaining, with the other five votes deciding for approval. The vote was 6-2-1. 

Blake also abstained on the vote to approve a use permit for the project, while the rest of the board voted for approval. 

Construction is sometime in the indefinite future, but center officials have said they need the approvals to qualify for additional funds to build the project. 

The project has been strongly endorsed by Mayor Tom Bates, U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee and others. 

The board also voted to approve an on-site beer and wine license for the planned Adagia Restaurant in Westminster House, a residential hall sponsored by the Presbyterian Church at the corner of College Avenue and Bancroft Way. 

Police and Berkeley Planning Commissioners had approved the sale of low-proof drinks with the stipulation that sales must cease at 10 p.m. and no alcohol may be taken off the premises. 

The restaurant is scheduled to open something next year.