Berkeley Neighborhoods Council
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Neighborhood News, Round and About
First of all, one of our BNC members suggests that the name of this Section needs to be changed. She likes the Section and looks forward to reading it, but thinks we need a name with more oomph, p-jazz or whatever you might want to call it. The problem is, we just can't think of one, so we thought we would ask you for some suggestions. Should we change the name, and if so, what should it be? Please send your suggestions to the following: firstname.lastname@example.org. In the meantime…
The News: Planning Department 0, Neighborhoods 2
Note: BNC representatives testified on behalf of the neighborhood in both the 2701 Shattuck and 3001 Telegraph issues.
2701 Shattuck Avenue (Shattuck and Derby): The Neighborhood vs Axis Development:
It all started when a neighbor posted on a list-serve that he saw a notice on a telephone pole stating that in two days a new development at 2701 Shattuck would be presented to the Design Review Committee (DRC). Another neighbor two doors away from the site checked the plans on the City's web site and realized that this proposed building would be enormous and would put his family's house under a shadow by 2 pm, every afternoon of the year. He studied the plans, wrote up his complaint and went to the DRC meeting. He was the only one to oppose the project. In fact, he was the only one other than the developers to say anything about the project at all.
After that meeting, one of the members of the DRC told him, “You need to organize your neighbors.” Then another person in attendance suggested distributing 100 flyers to all those who lived closest to the proposed project.
With new found determination, he took their advice, and wrote and distributed the flyers. That started people talking, and as his neighbors became aware of the sheer size of this building and the long shadow it would cast over the neighborhood, more and more people got involved. No one living nearby could really ignore it because it created such obvious damage to so many homes.
At the next meeting of the DRC where the developers presented plans, instead of one neighbor showing up to speak, there were about two dozen, 17 of whom spoke in opposition to the project. The project's design was voted down twice by the DRC so the developers hired a new architect, returned to the DRC, and finally got their design plans approved on the third vote, even though the neighborhood's concerns over the height and bulk of the building had not been addressed.
By now, the neighborhood realized that the playing field was not level. Two members of the DRC who voted for approval of the design plans were also members of the Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) who would be voting on whether to give the developers permission to construct the building, and Planning staff was in favor of the project.
In total, the neighborhood had to show up en masse for 6 different DRC and ZAB meetings. Each time, dozens of letters were written and entered into the official record. Each time, many people had to stand up and speak. This required a serious commitment of time and energy, but in the process, neighbors came together to know and greatly admire the effort, intelligence, and good humor of all who participated.
At a September 26, 2013, ZAB meeting, the Board told the developers to reduce the number of units and that they wanted to see what a 4-story alternative project would look like. The developers, however, didn't come back with that alternative.
Instead, on November 14th, Axis Development came back with their development team, and not 1 but 2 attorneys, including the ubiquitous, developers-choice, Rena Rickles. They presented new plans for a building that reduced the former 70 units to 67 (3 units off the northeast corner of the building), added a roof top garden, changed a setback, and enlarged an interior community room to increase a gym and dining space for the building's residents. The building would be the tallest building outside of the Downtown except for the proposed Honda Building project which hasn't yet been built.
Up to that time, Planning staff had fully supported the project, but this time, staff said that the developer had to reduce the project by 3 more units (67 to 64), and, if they wouldn't do that, the project should be denied. There was much back and forth between staff, developers, and Board members about why no 4-story alternative project was presented. The discussion was long and convoluted: “we were told to only study such an alternative, we did, and concluded that the 67 unit proposal was better for the neighbors” and “reducing units would require a variance for parking and we don't want to have a variance, only use permits. ” Staff kept saying a variance wouldn't be required, they could get a parking waiver, and Board members kept saying they were confused, but two things were clear: Board members were miffed and Axis Development wasn't giving in. In the end, the developer made it clear to all — they wanted a decision that evening.
Five people spoke in favor of the building, making the following points:
Twenty-two people spoke in opposition to the building, making the following points:
When it came to a vote on a motion made by Sophie Hahn to deny the application, the vote was:
So, what were the factors that lead to the neighborhood's stunning victory when almost everyone was predicting that the developer would have their request approved? Perhaps it was their unity and consistency. Everyone was going to be affected detrimentally by this building, and everyone made some contribution of time, research and effort to not let that happen. One person took the time to research the City's code and do the math required to figure out that this project was 212% of the allowable size. Others investigated building codes and precedents, and found persuasive arguments that completely undermined any of the developer's requests for Use Permits. Another neighbor researched state law and developer's strategies in other cities. Yet others kept the neighbors connected with well thought out plans and timely meetings. And virtually everyone sent letters to the DRC, ZAB, the Planning Department and the District City Council representative. It was a fantastic group effort.
The neighborhood discovered that arguments have to be made clearly, vigorously, and repeatedly and that the citation of specific City codes, and “detrimental” effects are what a project will be judged upon. Just saying a building is ugly and stupid is not adequate. For the ZAB to deny a project, a case has to be made that it violates some City code or state law, or that it creates a describable “detriment” for the neighbors and is “out of character” with the rest of the neighborhood. In the case of 2701 Shattuck, a towering 70 foot high building, less than ten feet from single story, 100-year old craftsmen bungalows was obviously “out of character” from the rest of the neighborhood, but, it took the consistent and persistent work of the neighbors to prove their case.
Neighbors who worked on this issue have suggested some items that other neighborhoods in similar situations might find helpful to use:
We all need to be aware that Axis Development could appeal the ZAB's decision and that the City Council could approve this building. We must also understand that the issue of inappropriate high density development is a community-wide fight that all neighborhoods should join. In-fill development without proper restraints could ruin Berkeley's neighborhoods and we need to think seriously about formulating common sense regulations that neighborhoods would work together to get approved. One might be a regulation that when new development shades a home so that it cannot create solar power during most daylight hours, the new development should be required to be scaled back to more appropriate proportions. Let BNC know what you think about this or other ideas you might have.
BNC will keep you informed.
And Another Victory: The Coffee Shop at 3001 Telegraph Ave. (corner of Ashby and Telegraph)
On November 19, 2013 the Council heard an appeal filed by James Smith and Andrew Johnson on behalf of the Bateman Neighborhood Association of the ZAB decision to grant an Administrative Use Permit (AUP) to allow a quick service restaurant on the corner of Ashby and Telegraph that would be 2,063 square feet, open from 5:30 AM to 9:00 PM with no customer parking. When such appeals are heard by the Council, the Council must decide between one of three options:
Planning Director Angstadt stated that the staff recommendation was that the Council should affirm the ZAB decision and dismiss the appeal. He described the project and the process it had undergone and cited a study done by the applicant that concluded there were at least18 parking spaces available in the area at all times, and that the City's Transportation Department approved this study.
Mayor Bates opened the discussion by advising the 50 to 60 people in the audience holding up yellow signs asking for a public hearing that they need not bother because this was the public hearing . After a rather sharp discussion, the Mayor was corrected that this was not the public hearing. He then stated that the appellant and applicant would each have 7 minutes to state their case, followed by 1 minute comments from the public.
James Smith spoke on behalf of the appellants and the Bateman Neighborhood Association made the following points:
The attorney for the applicant and the Starbucks employee in charge of development spoke and made the following points:
The City says 29 speakers followed these presentations. BNC, however, counted 33, 8 in favor of the project and 25 opposed.
The speakers in favor of dismissing the appeal and granting the AUP stated that Starbucks:
Speakers in favor of setting the matter for a public hearing before the Council said:
The Council discussion was interesting with the Planning Director indicating that the last ZAB meeting referenced by the speakers “didn't go so well.” He also stated that Café Mokka had been required to have customer off-street parking but that the rules had since been changed so quick service uses were eligible for a parking waiver if they met one of 4 criteria, one of which was that it was a quick service restaurant. He added that the proposed use at 3001 Telegraph met all 4 of the criteria for a parking waiver. Council Member Worthington pointed out e-mails the Council has received coming from out of town stating that they support Starbucks at this corner so they can drive by, stop, pick up their coffee and drink it on campus.
Mayor Bates moved and Council Member Anderson seconded the motion to set this matter for public hearing before the City Council. Council Member Anderson recounted his own experience regarding the shortage of parking in the area as he regularly seeks medical and dental care there and that the sheer amount of opposition was enough to require setting a public hearing. There was a sharp interchange between Mayor Bates and Council Member Anderson when Anderson complained that it wasn't fair that residents had to come to fight both staff and applicant, and Bates didn't want such a statement to stand. In the end the Council voted unanimously, 9 to 0 to set the matter for public hearing.
Some Council Members asked staff to specifically look into 1) incentives that Starbucks might offer to encourage100% of their customers to walk, bike or come by public transportation, and 2) what are the legal ramifications and assurances regarding off-site parking being reserved for Starbucks customers only at the Chevron Gas Station kitty-corner from the proposed use.
So, the matter is clearly not ended, but the neighborhoods indeed won a stunning victory. The public hearing should occur sometime in January, and it will be exceedingly important to neighborhoods all over to support the Bateman, LeConte and Willard Neighborhood Associations in their opposition to this proposed use.
BNC notes that no one, neither staff, Council or speakers, mentioned the possible traffic increase predicted in the Environmental Impact Study for the opening of the Fourth Bore. See related story in our Neighborhood Forum Section. We feel we should look at that and also add to our list of things to consider for future action such questions as:
Update on the Amendments to the Demolition and Dwelling Unit Controls Ordinance
The Planning Commission met on November 6, 2013 regarding this subject. They took no action until information relative to the Supreme Count Sterling Park decision and the nexus study specific to the issue of loss of affordable housing because of demolition of older housing has been completed.
BNC will keep you advised on what happens next.
Now, on to a Subject More Reflective of the Season
An American Redstart Sighted in the Elmwood
On November 18, 2013 the San Francisco Chronicle and about the same time, Berkeleyside, posted that an American Redstart bird had been sighted in the Elmwood on Sunday, November 17th. If you're a birder, and even if you are not, this is exciting news that drew in some 200 people to catch a view of this small warbler. This is the first time this bird has been seen in Berkeley and the first time in Alameda County. The sightings in Berkeley were on Prince, Woolsey and Lewiston Streets. There have been 6 reports of sightings in Southern California, one in Auburn in 2010 and one in Point Reyes in 2012. Its native habitat is in New Mexico, the middle of the country and the eastern seaboard. It migrates to Mexico and Central America. How it got to be in Berkeley this November, of course, is The Big Question.
BNC doesn't have a photo of the Redstart bird but you can easily see one by Googling American Redstart bird. The bird is only about 4.5 to 5.5 inches big with red, orange, or red-orange patches on its wings and tail. The internet tells us that the bird is a boldly patterned warbler of second growth woods and that it frequently flashes its orange/red wings and tail to flush insect prey from foliage. The female is less colorful than the male.
The really neat thing about looking up this bird is that you can hear recordings of its calls and songs at such web sites as the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. These recordings were made in Maine, Montana, Massachusetts, New Brunswick and New York. They are described as “tsee, tsee, tsee, tsee, tsway.” You can also hear recordings on the National Audubon web site which describes their song as “chewy-chewy-chewy-chew-chew-chew.” It's actually great fun to listen to and learn about them.
That reminds BNC, that we should encourage everyone to look into how to attract birds to your backyards by providing food, nesting materials, water and natural habitat. The web and our local Audubon Society Office on San Pablo Avenue are sure to help you figure out exactly what to do. This is a wonderful family-oriented project for the whole family and for people of all ages to undertake. It's also another reason why our backyards should neither be eliminated nor over shadowed. We were shocked to learn that nearly 80% of wildlife habitat in the United States is in private hands and that an average of 2.1 million acres each year are converted to residential use.
Let's protect and preserve our birds, and work to ensure that we plan wisely for their benefit as well as for ours. Happy Holidays to all!