Page One

ZAB Approves San Pablo Condos By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Tuesday December 14, 2004

With only two dissents, Zoning Adjustments Board members Thursday approved construction of a five-story condominium project at 2700 San Pablo Avenue. 

The building is the latest in a series of condo projects recently announced for the city. Most controversial is the Seagate building, a nine-story project recently approved for Center Street, a half-block west of the Wells Fargo building on Shattuck Avenue.  

San Francisco developer Charmaine Curtis and architect David Baker presented plans for their five-story building at the corner of San Pablo and Carleton Street. 

Curtis bought the site from developer Patrick Kennedy, whose earlier project for the site had foundered on neighborhood opposition. 

While Kennedy’s proposal had called for a four-story building, Curtis offered a structure that city staff classified as five floors because ground floor live/work units have an upper level, though the heights of both incarnations are identical. 

When she bought the site from Kennedy, Curtis also inherited the use permits previously awarded, paving the way for a potentially speedy approval. 

In the eyes of city staff, the new plans constituted a modification of the earlier versions, though the number of units had been reduced and the project had been changed from an apartments plus commercial to condos and commercial. 

The Kennedy version had sparked strong neighborhood opposition as well as a lawsuit, prompting the controversial developer to abandon the project and put the land—and permits—up for sale. 

“I knew the previous project had engendered a certain amount of controversy,” Curtis told ZAB members. 

Because of the project’s troubled history, she sent notices to 18 neighbors in September and invited them to a meeting where the most common complaint she heard concerned the project’s height, a point on which she wouldn’t yield.  

“I couldn’t eliminate one floor and still make money,” Curtis said. 

With the ZAB’s approval, Curtis said, “I’m ready to complete the design and pull permits. I can begin construction next summer and have it complete the following year.” 

While two neighbors praised the project as a source of neighborhood revitalization, six others spoke against it—including Julie Dickinson, one of the litigants who sued over the previous project. 

In addition to height, critics worried about the potential environmental, parking and traffic impacts of construction. 

Leslie Marks, who lives immediately behind the site, said she was worried about loss of privacy and garage noise. She also expressed concern about possible exposure to noxious odors and toxins when crews tear down a former gas station of the site. 

Tank leaks had polluted the soil around the station, and during the preparation work conducted during Kennedy’s ownership, contaminated soils were left uncovered on the site, which Marks said caused her health problems. 

Curtis’s use permits bar a repeat of the past incident, mandating that toxic-laced soils to be moved offsite immediately upon excavation. 

Another concern voiced by both neighbors and ZAB members centered on the four ground floor units, reduced from five in an earlier version of her plans. 

One of the original five she had planned was reserved for purely residential use and assigned for sale as an inclusionary unit to be sold at a reduced price. 

The Design Review Committee rejected the residential unit, said Senior Planner Greg Powell, so the space was consigned to four live/work units. 

Curtis said she simply couldn’t afford to sell one of those four as an inclusionary unit because construction costs were too high. 

A larger ground floor space at the corner of San Pablo and Carleton is reserved for a commercial tenant, most likely but not necessarily a restaurant, Curtis said. 

ZAB member Carrie Sprague asked Curtis why the remainder of the floor was reserved for live/work and not commercial. 

Asked why she didn’t devote the entire ground floor to businesses, Curtis said, “I would never have tried to develop 5,000 to 6,000 square feet of commercial space. It would just be dead commercial space.” 

Commissioner Sprague then asked if she could simply remove the upper level loft in the ground floor units to reduce the overall height of the building. “It just seems really high,” she said to the applause of the neighbors seated in the back of the room. 

Curtis disagreed. “Live/work space are considered high volume spaces,” she said.  

Member Bob Allen said he understood the concern over height, “but this project meets every planning criterion on the books. What I like about the building is that instead of crowding in every unit they could, they have fewer units, which means fewer cars in the neighborhood. . .It’s going to be a beautifully executed building.” 

Allen moved approval of the project and Jesse Anthony seconded. 

Deborah Matthews, in her final session as a ZAB member, said that as a longtime resident of Carelton Street, she welcomed the project, in part because it would discourage the prostitution which has long blighted the area. 

“Going from rental to ownership units is also a plus,” she said. 

David Blake said he was troubled at the loss of the first floor residential unit and by the fact that the live/work units might present a curtained or papered-over face to pedestrians along San Pablo. 

He said he was also troubled by the way the city calculated the density bonus granted to the project, which will have inclusionary units on each of the other floors. 

The San Pablo project will be the last in the city in which inclusionary bonus space is calculated under the old rules. A new state law coming into effect Jan. 1 will mandate a new basis for calculation, and Sanderson said city staff is studying the changes to bring themselves up to speed. 

Then the board voted, and barring an appeal to the City Council, Berkeley has its newest condominium project. 

One of those voting for the project was the newest ZAB member, Richard Judd, a lawyer with a degree from Harvard Law School who works for the Oakland real estate law firm of Goldfarb & Lipman, which specializes in affordable housing, redevelopment and municipal law. 

Judd was appointed by newly elected City Councilmember and former ZAB member Laurie Capitelli to fill the seat he had just vacated. 

The board delayed a decision on developer Richard Schwarzmann’s plan to build a five-unit green residential complex at 1414 Harmon Street after neighbors voiced opposition to the loss of daylight the new project would cause. Members indicated they’d be glad to approve the proposal if he submitted a new design with a lower roofline for one of the buildings. 

Members also approved plans for renovation of the industrial building at 950 Gilman St., including a reallocation of a quarter of the structure from industrial to office use. 

The board took no action on realtor/developer John Gordon’s plans to convert seven vacant dwelling units at 1952-1966 University Ave. into office space and construct 3,545 square feet of additional space for two restaurants at the site. 

Both the Harmon Street project and Gordon’s proposal were continued to ZAB’s Jan. 13 meeting.