Zoning Board Approves Kashani’s Ashby Ave. Condos

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Wednesday January 28, 2009 - 07:26:00 PM

Despite protests from neighbors and community members about traffic impacts and height, the Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board approved local developer Ali Kashani’s five-story mixed-use project last week. It would bring 98 condos, 7,770 square feet of ground-floor commercial space and 114 parking spaces to a 43,210 square-foot lot at 1200 Ashby Avenue, on the corner of San Pablo. 

At a Dec. 11 meeting last year, the board held a public hearing on the project and, after listening to Berkeley resident Steve Wollmer’s objection to the wording of its proposed permit’s handling of affordable units, voted to continue the discussion to Jan. 22 to allow city planners additional time to revise the density bonus calculations and inclusionary housing units. 

Aaron Sage, the City of Berkeley planner assigned to Kashani’s proposed project, informed the board that Kashani had withdrawn his request for a concession, under the state’s density bonus law, not to be required to provide any inclusionary units on the fifth floor. 

During the meeting, Wollmer noted recent changes in the state density bonus law—Government Code Section 65915—that took effect Jan. 1, which clarify the way the law is implemented, and reinforce the City of Berkeley’s past practice in implementing it. 

Wollmer said that he was under the impression that a general plan’s density limits should be applied to projects on a parcel-by-parcel basis, rather than to districts as a whole. 

Steven Ross, the city’s principal planner, and Sage contended that Berkeley’s General Plan states that the density standards should be applied to a broader area, because not every property would be redeveloped to the maximum density allowed under zoning. 

Both planners explained that this was consistent with the way the planning department had evaluated similar projects in the past, including some which had withstood legal challenges. 

Some neighbors on Carrison Street criticized the project, saying that it would bring congestion to the area, and requested a traffic diverter or other traffic calming measures for their street. 

Ross said that traffic concerns were almost always raised by immediate neighbors, whether the addition was 10 units or 100. 

He referred to the traffic study carried out by a firm hired by Kashani—which was reviewed and approved by the city’s Transportation Division—which shows a slight increase to the volume of traffic on Carrison, primarily because of the residential driveway on that street, and not by the commercial driveway on Ashby. 

Although both planners advised the zoning board that the small increase in traffic on Carrison did not require a traffic diverter or other calming measures, the board ultimately approved a second motion requesting the Berkeley City Council to consider evaluating a traffic diverter on Carrison. 

This was not a condition of the project’s approval, but a recommendation to council. 

Those in favor of the project called it a “gateway” to West Berkeley, arguing that it would help to clean up the property, which they described as a “blight” to the neighborhood.