The view, looking west from Channing Way toward Durant Avenue, of a development proposed in downtown Berkeley. Photo: Emilie Raguso
The view, looking north from Channing Way toward Durant Avenue, of a housing development proposed in downtown Berkeley. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Berkeley commissioners have postponed their vote on a project planned for Durant Avenue and Channing Way after the developer said he would reduce its scale following a recent decision by council to lower fees related to affordable housing requirements.

Developer William F. Schrader Jr. — of Alamo-based The Austin Group — presented the project to the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board on Thursday night. The project has been before the city’s Design Review Committee four times, but Thursday was its first time before the ZAB. The development has frontage at both 2024 Durant Ave. and 2025 Channing Way, and would include 78 one-, two- and three-bedroom units, along with 36 parking spaces, said Schrader.

The project — underway since May 2011 — spans two lots between Channing and Durant; on the south side, a deed restriction limits the height of the building to four stories. The north side of the property, fronting Durant, is proposed to include six stories, and reach 60 feet at the roof. A church at 2024 Durant would be demolished to make way for the new development, though its steeple, said the developer, will be displayed as public art on the new site.

Schrader came to Thursday night’s meeting having submitted plans for an eight-story structure on the Durant side. But he told commissioners that he is ready to reduce the height to six stories because of a recent City Council decision related to affordable housing requirements. Schrader said he had planned to build to eight stories and include affordable housing in the project when the fee was $28,000 per unit; but when the fee was reduced to $20,000 per unit in February, he said it made more financial sense to pay into the city’s Housing Trust Fund — to the tune of $1.4 million — instead.

Council members who supported lowering the fee said one of the city’s goals is to encourage developers to pay into the housing fund, rather than build their own decentralized units. A city staffer noted Thursday night that, with money in the housing fund, the city can build three times as many units as a developer would build with the same amount of money. Council members also said the lower fee would have the added benefit of keeping heights down around the city, which would reduce conflicts with neighbors.

“I have always, from the beginning, wanted to build a six-story building,” Schrader told the board. “But we couldn’t swallow the $28,000 fee.”

Nearby neighbors who spoke during the public comment period said, even at six stories, the project is still too tall. Berkeley resident Stephen Stine told the board that he has collected 240 signatures in support of a three-story building. Other residents described the project as “wanton,” “rapacious” and “a behemoth.”

Residents raised concerns about noise and dust during construction, and said the development would be out of scale with the neighborhood. They also said the project will potentially clash with senior housing next door at 2020 Durant, as many of the new rentals — the developer estimated 60% — will be inhabited by students. (See a presentation from project critics here.)

Neighbors also said street parking is already too hard, and that the project doesn’t include a realistic number of spaces in the building. A man who said he was a 29-year resident of Channing described the project as a “parking disaster in the making.”

Developers said all the project’s criteria, including parking spots, conform to city code requirements. Schrader told the board that, in fact, the development includes 10-13 more parking spaces than the city even requires.

Commissioners expressed mixed views on the project. Bob Allen said he was “frankly thrilled” to see the six-story project rather than the eight-story version. Igor Tregub, too, said the smaller building is “a significant step forward.” Acting Chair Deborah Matthews said she was concerned about so many students living next door to seniors, and Commissioner Sophie Hahn responded that such relationships can be a community benefit, if they’re properly fostered.

Allen noted that the developer had made concessions to help respond to potential issues related to seniors, such as eliminating balconies from the building next to the senior housing; including a live-in manager on the property; and setting off smaller spaces on the roof so it wouldn’t turn into a large party zone. (Allen has been involved with earlier discussions on the project because he’s also a member of the Design Review Committee.)

Commissioner Elisa Mikiten raised a number of concerns, both large and small, about the project. She said she thought the site was perhaps zoned incorrectly, and criticized the design of the actual units, questioning whether they were up to city code.

“I’m not comfortable with these units,” she told her colleagues. “I wouldn’t vote for this.”

Commissioners agreed to delay their decision on whether to approve the project until March 14 so Schrader can submit new plans that reflect the six-story version of the development.

Berkeley zoning board approves 78-unit Durant [03.15.13]
First high rise in 40 years proposed for downtown Berkeley [12.21.12]
Council sets fee for affordable housing mitigation [10.18.12]
New mixed-use building going up at Telegraph and Ashby [09.12.12]
Acheson Commons: Large change for downtown [04.12.12]
Parker Place wins council approval [01.18.12]

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist of the Year...