Hello Mayor Tom Bates, Berkeley City Council, the Zoning Adjustments Board, Planning Commission, Design Review Committee, Terry Blount, Alex Amoroso, and Anne Burns,
I am submitting this public comment to request the Zoning Adjustments Board, the Planning Commission, and City Council to review the 2012 upzoning of the 2024 Durant property from R-4 residential zoning to C-DMU commercial mixed use zoning, and to request City Council to downzone 2024 Durant to R-3 residential zoning, as was originally proposed in the Downtown Area Plan (DAP). Policy LU-7.1 of the Downtown Area Plan directed the city to downzone R-4 properties in the southwest downtown area of Berkeley to R-3 residential zoning in order to preserve the residential nature of the neighborhood, and Planning Commission and City Council did the exact opposite by upzoning 2024 Durant from R-4 to C-DMU commercial mixed use zoning.
The other R-4 properties on the south side of Durant between Shattuck and Milvia, 2020 Durant and 2000 Durant, were downzoned from R-4 to R-3 as directed by the DAP; however, in the case of 2024 Durant, the Planning Commission and City Council circumvented the Downtown Area Plan's objectives, and upzoned 2024 Durant to C-DMU commercial mixed use zoning instead of downzoning it to R-3 residential zoning as directed.
The 2024 Durant property owner argued to the Planning Commission that the 2024 property is surrounded by four-and five-story buildings, and thus would be in a "hole" if limited to R-3 zoning with a three story maximum building height. However, this argument is based on faulty logic and should not have convinced the city to upzone the property; the argument is not unique to 2024 Durant, but applies as well to the 2020 Durant and 2000 Durant properties. The 2020 Durant and 2000 Durant properties have been downzoned to R-3 residential zoning in accordance with the DAP, meaning that if the owners ever want to tear down the properties for new uses, they can only build up to three stories. That is the exact purpose of the DAP's direction to downzone the R-4 properties to R-3 residential zoning, in order to preserve the residential character of the neighborhood by limiting future building heights to three stories under R-3 zoning, in accordance with Policy LU-7.1. So the "hole" argument applies not only to 2024 Durant, but equally as well to 2020 Durant and 2000 Durant, and an exception should not have been made for 2024 Durant. Upzoning 2024 Durant to C-DMU simply exerts development pressures further into the residential southwest downtown neighborhood that Policy LU-7.1 was designed to protect by downzoning R-4 zoning to R-3 zoning.
2024 Durant, if downzoned to R-3 zoning as directed by the DAP, would not be directly adjacent to taller Corridor area commercial buildings, according to Figure LU-1A on page LU-4 of the plan, and thus there is appropriate existing buffer between the Corridor and the residential zoning that is appropriate to 2024 Durant. Directly to the east of 2024 Durant is a flat surface parking lot owned by Staples (the main Staples building is located at 2352 Shattuck). The Staples parking lot is marked as Buffer (commercial mixed use) in the Downtown Area Plan, not Corridor area commercial use. Therefore, from east to west, there would be Corridor area commercial zoning on Shattuck, which would transition to C-DMU commercial mixed use zoning on the Staples parking lot property, which would transition to R-3 residential zoning at 2024 Durant, 2020 Durant, and 2000 Durant. This is what the original DAP envisioned and directed. There is no need to have upzoned 2024 Durant to C-DMU, as there would have been a transition from C-DMU to R-3 zoning at the site of the Staples parking lot. The city directly violated the DAP's original spirit and vision by extending development pressures further into the southwest downtown residential neighborhood, by ignoring the direction of Policy LU-7.1 to downzone R-4 properties in the area to R-3, and instead upzoning 2024 Durant to C-DMU commercial mixed use zoning.
Finally, there are several other significant reasons 2024 Durant should be downzoned to R-3 residential zoning as originally directed in the DAP. I will present further issues and analysis in the style of a Zoning Adjustments Board report. Upzoning 2024 Durant to C-DMU instead of downzoning it as directed in the Downtown Area Plan to R-3 residential zoning can be viewed as the equivalent of requesting a zoning variance from R-4 to R-3 to C-DMU zoning, a zoning variance to build to six-stories as allowed under C-DMU zoning instead of being limited to three stories under R-3 residential zoning, and thus the upzoning should be subjected to a general detriment analysis to determine the impact of the upzoning on neighboring buildings. The decision to upzone 2024 Durant to C-DMU commercial zoning instead of downzoning it to R-3 residential zoning was erroneous in light of the drastic impacts it will have on the low-income senior citizens who live in the low-income senior housing residence ("Stuart Pratt Manor") at 2020 Durant.
General Detriment Findings:
1. The 2024 Durant property should be downzoned to R-3 residential zoning, as originally directed by the Downtown Area plan, because any proposed projects over the maximum R-3 height of three stories, under the circumstances of the particular case existing at the time at which the application is granted, will be detrimental to the health, safety, peace, morals, comfort, or general welfare of persons residing or working in the area or neighborhood of such proposed use or be detrimental or injurious to property and improvements of the adjacent properties, the surrounding area or neighborhood, or to the general welfare of the City, for the following reasons:
A. Any building at 2024 Durant over the maximum R-3 height of three stories will create significant view impacts and natural light impacts to the adjacent low-income senior housing residence at 2020 Durant, which was sponsored to be built in 1969 by the Presbytery of San Francisco (the owners of 2024 Durant) in order to house senior citizen church members and other seniors. The 2020 Durant senior residence was built in a manner that relies upon the scale of the two-story church building at 2024 Durant, and the two buildings function as a pair. Relying on the two-story height of the 2024 Durant church building, the senior citizen church home at 2020 Durant was designed with the majority of east-facing units having only one source of visible light, the east-facing balcony windows.
The east-facing units of 2020 Durant were designed as studio apartments without skylights or interior windows looking out onto ventilation shafts or courtyards; they depend on having a two-story building on the property just to the east at 2024 Durant so that they can get sufficient natural lighting for their residents. The city should take this unique circumstance into account when considering the zoning of the 2024 Durant property--the current two-story church building played an integral role in the design of the internal units of the building the Presbytery sponsored to house its senior congregation members and other seniors.
The Presbytery sponsored the construction of the 2020 Durant senior home in such a way that the majority of east-facing units have only one source of natural light, the balcony windows. As such, the Presbytery should have deeded their 2024 Durant property to restrict future building height on the property to two or three stories in order to protect the senior residents of 2020 Durant, knowing that any building on 2024 Durant over two or three stories will block the only source of natural light for the majority of east-facing units in the building. Keep in mind that these are low-income senior citizens, a vulnerable population with special needs who should not be cut off from their only source of natural light by a building at 2024 Durant over two or three stories. The original direction of the Downtown Area Plan would have made this problem moot, by preserving the residential character of the neighborhood and protecting its low-income senior citizens by downzoning 2024 Durant to R-3 zoning. The city erroneously second-guessed Policy LU-7.1 by upzoning 2024 Durant to C-DMU zoning. Now is the time to remedy this mistake and to protect the seniors of 2020 Durant and their single source of natural light by correctly downzoning 2024 Durant to R-3 zoning as directed by the DAP.
B. Privacy and noise concerns: Any building at 2024 Durant over the maximum R-3 height of three stories will substantially affect the privacy of neighboring dwellings at 2020 Durant. As mentioned above, the east-facing balconies are the only source of natural light for the majority of east-facing units in the low-income senior home at 2020 Durant. The seniors will thus face the decision of either keeping their balcony windows unobstructed to continue to receive their only source of natural light, and having the insides of their dwellings exposed to neighbors at any building at 2024 Durant, or will have to cover their balcony windows with curtains for privacy, thus being deprived of their only source of natural light. 2020 Durant was designed in conjunction with the existing scale and structure of the church building at 2024 Durant so that the church residents and current seniors at 2020 Durant could receive natural light without having to worry about their privacy.
In addition to privacy issues, any building over the maximum R-3 height of three stories at 2024 Durant can house a higher number of tenants and residents, and any commercial use of C-DMU zoned property can host commercial activities, increasing the possibility of increased noise and traffic in the neighborhood and at 2024 Durant, which will negatively impact the low-income seniors next door at 2020 Durant, who depend on peace and quiet in the neighborhood and at 2024 Durant as integral aspects of their quality of life in the Stuart Pratt senior home at 2020 Durant.
C. Parking: It is currently very difficult to find parking on Durant and Channing between Shattuck and Milvia, between Shattuck and Martin Luther King Jr. Way, and in the entire southwest downtown Berkeley area. The Downtown Area Plan's direction to downzone R-4 properties to R-3 properties would alleviate parking difficulties in the future, by restricting commercial development and density in the neighborhood. By upzoning 2024 Durant to C-DMU instead of downzoning it to R-3 zoning, the Planning Commission and City Council have increased commercial development pressures in the southwest downtown residential neighborhood, making the already difficult parking situation potentially much worse.
D. Commercial intrusion into a residential neighborhood: The Downtown Area Plan directed R-4 residential properties to be downzoned to R-3 residential zoning in the southwest downtown residential neighborhood, to protect it from development pressures exerted by increased infill and commercial development in the downtown core. The church building at 2024 Durant, the parking lot at 2011 Durant, the detached house at 2015 Durant, the apartment building at 2021 Durant, the detached house at 2027 Durant, the apartment building at 2018 Bancroft, the detached house at 2028 Bancroft, and the apartment building at 2030 Bancroft, all at the edge of the southwest Berkeley residential neighborhood, were zoned as R-4 residential properties as part of an R-4 residential district. It was this R-4 residential district that Policy LU-7.1 was designed to protect by directing the downzoning of R-4 properties to R-3 zoning, "except for the north side of Dwight Way east of Shattuck Avenue." (See Policy LU-7.1).
However, by upzoning 2024 Durant and these other properties from R-4 to C-DMU zoning, in direct violation of Policy LU-7.1, instead of downzoning them to R-3, the Planning Commission and City Council have created the intrusion of commercial development pressures farther into the R-4 residential district and farther into the southwest downtown residential neighborhood. To remedy this exertion of commercial development pressures into the residential neighborhood Policy LU-7.1 directs the city to protect, the Planning Commission and City Council should downzone 2024 Durant from R-4 zoning and subsequent C-DMU zoning to R-3 zoning, as was directed by Policy LU-7.1 of the Downtown Area Plan.
City of Berkeley Downtown Area Plan, Policy LU-7.1:
"Policy LU-7.1: Neighborhood Protections.
Seek to reduce development pressures in residential-only areas, to promote the preservation and rehabilitation of older structures – and to conserve the scale of their historic fabric (see Policy HD-1.5).
a) Maintain the R-2A zoning designation and downzone R-4 areas to R-3 (as shown in Figure LU-1), except for the north side of Dwight Way east of Shattuck Avenue."
Description of 2024 Durant and adjacent properties after the Planning Commission and City Council upzoned 2024 Durant to C-DMU commercial mixed use zoning in violation of Policy LU-7.1 (note the admission that the Buffer area "was the R-4 residential district" before the inappropriate upzoning of 2024 Durant):
"This site is located in the C-DMU Downtown Mixed Use zoning district, and specifically in the Buffer subarea in what was the R-4 residential district before the Downtown Plan and subsequent Ordinance revisions were recently adopted. The Durant side of the project has apartment buildings to the west and across the street, and the parking lot of a large commercial retail building directly to the east. On the Channing side, there are apartment buildings to the east and across the street, with smaller residential structures to the west. While the project is in the C-DMU buffer subarea, the R-3 residential district is directly adjacent to the project site to the east."
Staff recommendation to upzone 2024 Durant to C-DMU commercial zoning from R-4 residential zoning in violation of Policy LU-7.1:
"Modify Figure LU-1: Extend Buffer designation by one parcel at 2024 Durant. See attached map. In a letter to the Planning Commission, property owner has requested that 60-foot building height limit now allowed by R-4 zoning be retained. Buildings that are 4-and 5-stories surround property."
Letter from 2024 Durant property owners requesting an upzoning from R-4 to C-DMU commercial zoning:
Blueprints of 2020 Durant showing that the majority of units on the east side are studio apartments with only one source of natural light, their balcony windows (see pages 4 and 5)