On January 28, Berkeley’s Zoning Adjustments Board approved a plan submitted on behalf of Mitchell Kapor to build a new home at 2707 Rose Street (model pictured left). The approval is being appealed.

Berkeleyside first drew attention to this issue on January 25. We published an explanation of the thinking behind the appeal, written by architect Gary Parsons, here.The original application can be viewed here and drawings associated with the application can be seen here. The full appeal can be viewed here. The zoning board is due to hear the appeal on April 27th.

A group of immediate and adjacent neighbors to the property at 2707 Rose Street has written a letter expressing its “strong support” for the proposed project. We publish it today. Following the letter is a letter written by architect Marcy Wong whose firm, Marcy Wong Donn Logan Architects, created the designs for the proposed new home. At the request of the signatories to the letter below, Wong has responded to specific assertions made in the appeal to show, in her words, that they are erroneous.

March 10, 2010

Re: 2707 Rose Street

Dear Friends and Neighbors

We are a group of four families who are all the immediately adjacent neighbors to the property at 2707 Rose Street, where a new house is proposed to be built. The purpose of this letter is to let the neighborhood know of our strong support for the proposed project, and the reasons for it. We are communicating with you, the larger neighborhood, because we are concerned about the unity of the neighborhood and harmony among its residents, and believe that this project deserves to be supported.

A year ago we all received a letter from Mitch Kapor and Freada Kapor Klein, the new property owners, asking if they could introduce themselves and describe their plans to build a house immediately adjacent to us, on Rose St. We met them, and later with their architects to review their design. We informed them of long standing problems with the property, and gave our own suggestions about what was needed to be done to resolve these issues while maintaining our own privacy. Mitch and Freada were exceptionally collaborative, responsive and sensitive to our concerns and issues.

Over a month ago, their initial proposal was approved by Berkeley’s Zoning Adjustment Board (ZAB) (7 for, 1 abstention, 1 absent), a necessary step for all new house construction. However, an appeal against the ZAB approval was then filed, and signed by people who live beyond our immediate street. The appeal raises concerns both about the project and the City’s process. From what we see, the eight month City Zoning process, preceded by the five months of working with the neighbors, was neither short nor deficient but rather, complete and proper. The project is completely in keeping with the standards of the City Zoning Ordinance, blocks no protected views and poses no other detriments. In fact it provides amenities and improvements valuable to the neighborhood, such as the extensive landscaping, a turn-around on Rose Street, and ample off street parking.

A city council meeting will take place on April 27, at which the parties pro and con will each have seven minutes to present their cases. The Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board based its decisions on a set of issues within their purview under the Zoning Ordinance including the use of property, the height of buildings, the setbacks of buildings, the percentage of lot coverage, the lot area requirements, and the parking requirements. Their approval was based on the design’s meeting the criteria the ZAB uses for these issues. They do not have jurisdiction over questions of aesthetics, seismic engineering, or other building and life safety issues that are regularly addressed during the building permitting phase. The appeal of their decision concerns several of these latter issues, even though they fall outside the purview of the ZAB. The appeal also cites some issues with the procedures and practices of the City of Berkeley. Per our request, the architects have prepared a summary response to the assertions in the appeal and we have attached this letter to provide a more complete discussion of the issues brought up by the appeal [See below.] We hope that this explanation clears up some of the questions people may have.

We assume that we all have some areas of agreement like the willingness to welcome new neighbors and the interest in improving a blighted property. We feel that the Kapor Kleins would be very desirable neighbors. The project is designed to minimize its impact by providing underground parking for guests, by setting the house well back from its neighbors, and by making the house colored to blend in with surrounding vegetation.

Moreover the Kapor Kleins, in deference to their neighbors, were willing to invest in solutions to long-standing problems on the cul-de-sac street which has no turn around and no legal street parking. All of us have been long distressed by the hazardous, dilapidated existing house and lot in the neighborhood – a problem that we want dealt with as soon as possible. All of us would prefer not to have an intensive development of several houses put on the lot, which would be a developer’s likely alternative to having a single house.

Joining together our support and hopefully your support of this project will go a long way toward healing the recent divisiveness in the neighborhood, which we think is the result of confusion and unwarranted fears about the project. We would be happy to talk to any of you about the project. Our contact information is below. We are planning to appear at the April 27th meeting in support of this project, and hope that some of you will, also.

Please contact any of us to let us know of your thoughts and willingness to openly support the project.

Paul Opsvig
2637 Rose St., Berkeley 94708
510-845 1842

Susan Opsvig
2637 Rose St., Berkeley 94708
510-845 1842

Roger Carr
510-486 0481
2645 Shasta Rd., Berkeley 94708

Jana Olson
510- 486 0481
2645 Shasta Rd., Berkeley 94708

Alan Shriro
510- 848 6607
1371 La Loma, Berkeley 94708

Lorna Brown
1371 La Loma, Berkeley 94708
510- 848 6607

Miki Merin
510- 486 8198
2650 Shasta Rd., Berkeley 94708


Date: March 10, 2010
To: Paul Opsvig , Susan Opsvig, Jana Olson, Roger Carr, Miki Merin, Alan Shriro, Lorna Brown (Neighbors)
Fr: Marcy Wong (Architect)
Re: 2707 Rose Street, Appeal Response Summary

Dear Mr. and Ms. Opsvig, Ms. Olson, Mr. Carr, Ms. Merin, Mr. Shriro, and Ms. Brown,

Per your request that I provide a description of the appeal assertions, and responses explaining the  facts which demonstrate that the assertions are erroneous, here is a summary:

1. APPEAL ASSERTION: “The process of notifying the neighborhood was sorely inadequate.”
RESPONSE: The notification of the neighborhood with regard to mailed notices within the standard 300′  radius, and the posting of several bright yellow posters met if not exceeded Zoning Ordinance  requirements. Moreover the owners secured and continue to enjoy the approval of all of the immediate  neighbors.

2. APPEAL ASSERTION: “(H)ad the Planning Department’s own application requirements been followed, story  poles should have been erected…” and “The ‘H’ District’s requirement for story poles was not met.”
RESPONSE: The Planning Department’s application form indicates that the decision of whether to require  story poles is at the discretion of the staff. The standard practice has been to require story poles when  a neighbor’s protected view may be impacted by a structure. Staff is not required to mandate story poles  because someone from afar, who is clearly not impacted by the project, demands that it be done. Story  poles were not required for this project, because the project is completely lower than the elevation of  the LaLoma Avenue structure, and does not impact any protected views including those from neighbors above  and directly adjacent sides.

3. APPEAL ASSERTION: “Other improper shortcuts in public notification were apparent with regard to  landmarks. The staff failed to provide LPC with information specifying that a 1920s home was being  demolished to be replaced with a new dwelling.”
RESPONSE: The application for demolition and new structure was available to the LPC per the usual  procedure and standard practice of the Zoning Department. Applicant provided Planning staff with a six- page history of the 2707 property.

4. APPEAL ASSERTION: “To…waive such a requirement when a structure of such unprecedented size and wholly  different architectural style from the neighborhood is proposed is not only contrary to the department’s  own requirements, but especially grievous [sic].”
RESPONSE: Architectural style for single family residential structures is not a Zoning Ordinance use  permit issue. To make it an issue in this case would be to deviate from the department’s purview. The  City’s own records show that the size of the house, whose livable area is about 6,500 s.f., is far from  “unprecedented.” The lot is very large and could contain a house four times the size of the proposed  project or four houses with “granny units” in a subdivision.

5. APPEAL ASSERTION: “The report does not mention the impact of massive excavation and topographical  changes to the property.”
RESPONSE: The report does describe the excavation and cites specific numbers of cubic yards of cut and  fill, along with the slope of the site. Detailed issues about execution and engineering of excavation are  dealt with during the building permit phase rather than the zoning use permit phase. All projects on  steep hills have these issues; they are technical issues that are routinely addressed to meet life safety  standards. See item 6) below.

6. APPEAL ASSERTION: “…(N)o conditions relative to grading or excavation standards are mentioned.”
RESPONSE: The use permit that is being contested includes City of Berkeley imposed conditions that must  be met in this regard.

7. APPEAL ASSERTION: “The staff report fails to mention, and indeed denies the existence of, historic  resources in the neighborhood.”
RESPONSE: The City Ordinance defines the relevant historic resources as being “adjacent” to a subject  property. None of the adjacent properties are historic resources. The historic resources named in the  appeal are Greenwood Commons and the Hume House, which are hundreds of feet away.

8. APPEAL ASSERTION: “It is shocking that there has been no research done to see if the existing  structures on the site, due to be demolished, have any significant history attached to them…”
RESPONSE: As part of the use permit application, the existing structures were researched and a history of  the structures was submitted to the City. (See response to #3 above.)

9. APPEAL ASSERTION: “No mention of conditions related to landslide were thought to be necessary…and the  building has been exempted from the requirements of the Alquist Priolo Act…”
RESPONSE: The project is not in a landslide zone; this has been verified by a licensed geo-technical  engineer. Therefore, the project is not and never was subject to and has not been “exempted” from the  Alquist Priolo Act.

10. APPEAL ASSERTION: “Staff finds that the building is a two story wood-frame structure, despite  indications that structurally it is a three story building.”
RESPONSE: The project is a 2- story building. The drawings show 2 stories. The upper level is entirely  living area, the lower of two levels has both an subterranean garage built into the hill, as well as  living area daylighting to the north. There is no 3rd level.

11. APPEAL ASSERTION: “The building as proposed exceeds both the average height and maximum height  standards.”
RESPONSE: The project heights –both average and maximum – are at or under the City standards. Moreover,  the height of the building blocks no protected views, poses no shadow or other detriment and is not  objected to by any of the immediate neighbors.

12. APPEAL ASSERTION: “The project takes advantage of a loophole in the Zoning Ordinance’s definitions  which states that a building height is measured from “finished grade.”
RESPONSE: The appeal authors appear to be confirming that our method of calculating height is consistent  with what is prescribed in the Zoning Ordinance.

13. APPEAL ASSERTION: “The assertion that this project meets “green building goals” is highly  questionable.
RESPONSE: The project exceeds the required points under the City’s “Build-It-Green” program as it has  about twice as many points as the minimum required. The Build-It-Green program (which the City of  Berkeley has adopted for its green standards) involves a Green Point check list for single family homes.  Under this system, a home is considered green if it earns at least 50 points. This project has thus far a score of 91 points, which may ultimately be even higher as the design  develops.

14. APPEAL ASSERTION: “(T)he average size of a dwelling in the area is about 2,000 square feet, one finds  that 2707 Rose Street would be about three times that size.”
RESPONSE: The average size house in the area is well above 2,000 sq. ft. In fact, the houses immediately  surrounding the site average well over 3,000 sq. feet and in some cases exceed 4,000 sq. ft. Some of the  most cherished houses in the neighborhood are over 6,000 s.f. in area.

15. APPEAL ASSERTION: “The staff notes that dwellings to the north do not have views across the site but  neglects views toward the site.”
RESPONSE: The implication of the appeal is that houses should be invisible as one looks up at or across  hills. However, visibilities of houses across a canyon are not violations of protected views, as defined  by the City of Berkeley’s Municipal Code. Moreover, this site is one of the most hidden and tree-screened  properties in the hills. It will be less visible to its neighbors than the vast majority of houses in the  Berkeley Hills.

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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...