Berkeley Neighborhoods Council

 

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Featured Neighborhoods: The Latest News Regarding the Issue that Isn't so Silent Any More

The project described below would need Use Permits even if the Council had not taken any action regarding Mini-Dorms on September 10, 2013.  It will be of considerable interest to see how the staff and members of the Zoning Adjustments Board react to this project in view of that Council action and Municipal Code Chapter 13.42, Operating Standards for Mini-Dorms.

Mini-Dorms Endanger a Victorian Treasure

by Gale Garcia, LeConte Neighborhood Association

A huge expansion project has been proposed for the backyards of the Bartlett Houses at 2201-2205 Blake Street, and the lot just north of them at 2204 Dwight Way. What follows here is the short version of a very complicated tale of Mini-Dorm excess.

The Bartlett houses are two pristine Victorian houses with their original accessory structures on a large corner lot on Blake Street at Fulton. The site is a City of Berkeley landmark. There are currently approximately 14 bedrooms within the two houses. The plan involves adding a new dwelling unit in the historic stable, and up to eight bedrooms in a new 3,047 square foot duplex. An underground parking garage of 1,500 square feet would be built beneath the new duplex.

In Spring of 2013 the owner of the Bartlett site, Nathan George, purchased the duplex directly behind it at 2204 Dwight Way, and began expansion of the building with additional bedrooms in a new basement. His rental ads say there are now eight+ bedrooms in that duplex. He plans to add a 3,400 square foot, four-story duplex in the backyard, with three floors above ground and one floor below ground, containing a total of eight bedrooms. There would then be at least 16 bedrooms on this lot.

The parking plan is to add one space next to the Bartlett stable and six spaces in the underground parking garage to fulfill (supposedly) the parking requirements of both the Blake Street and the Dwight Way parcels. A long sloped driveway would go from Dwight Way down to the underground garage behind the Bartlett Houses. There would then be a total of seven parking spaces to serve all the bedrooms for both lots - up to 39 bedrooms. All residents would be eligible for Preferential Parking Permits. Mr. George has been known to advertise no limit to the number of occupants allowed per bedroom in some of his rentals around town.

The immediate neighborhood of this proposed project is already extremely crowded. The owner of a 10-unit building on Fulton Street, three doors away from the Bartlett houses, was allowed to remove three parking spaces and convert them into bedrooms last year. Since completion of that conversion, residents frequently cannot park on their own block when they return home at night, a situation that has never occurred before in this neighborhood.

The extravagant expansion projects for 2201-2205 Blake and 2204 Dwight Way were tentatively scheduled for the Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) in October, and again in November, but have been postponed. They may come before the ZAB for a decision some time in January 2014.

BNC Comment

As Ms Garcia states above, this project is indeed very complicated.  On December 5, 2005, the Bartlett Houses at 2201-2205 Blake Street were designated City of Berkeley landmarks.  This designation enabled the property owners to take advantage of the Mills Act which allows owners to obtain property tax reductions in exchange for maintaining and/or restoring an historic property.  On September 18, 2007, the City Council approved a Mills Act contract for 2205 Blake.  The approved contract identified 9 specific projects the owner was to complete over a 10-year period.  The improvements listed in the contract included foundation work, roof repair, repair of exterior siding, improvements to the downstairs kitchen, improvements to the upstairs kitchen, and restoration of bathrooms.  Possibly all of these requirements have been completed, and possibly it will be viewed by the City that there is no problem between what is being asked for in the new application and the improvements listed in the Mills Act contract.  We don't yet know.  However, in addition to consideration of the overall impacts this project has on the surrounding residential neighborhood, there is the question of whether tax reductions should be allowed for any part of a project that is designed to maximize density and profit from additional construction on the adjoined parcels.

All-in-all, the bottom line will be what people say at the public hearing before the Zoning Adjustments Board.

We'll keep you informed when that is scheduled.