Stonefire, proposed development. Image: Johnson Lyman Architects
The eight-story “Stonefire” building has been proposed at Milvia and University. For context, nearby Berkeley Central on Center Street rises nine stories. Image: Johnson Lyman Architects

A new eight-story building could take the place of the Firestone garage and parking lot at Milvia and University, if a newly proposed development at 1974 University Ave. is approved by the city of Berkeley.

The project is still in its nascent stages as far as the city permit approval process; developer William Schrader Jr., of Alamo-based The Austin Group, submitted the application Friday, with the possibility of a design review session coming in August.

Schrader’s son, AJ, a broker with San Francisco-based boutique real estate firm Retail West, who procured the sale of the land, said last week that the deal took about 14 months to negotiate. The sale won’t be final until the city entitlement process is complete, or nearly complete, he added.

William Schrader said the new development would help continue extending “the retail experience” from Shattuck Avenue downtown westbound on University Avenue. The new building is planned at this time to include an atrium that’s open to the sky. The first story would be retail, which is set to include a full-service restaurant, perhaps 3,500 square feet, and some other commercial spaces on University.

The Firestone lot. Image: Google Maps
The Firestone lot. Image: Google

William Schrader said the design team hopes to include special features as far as the streetscape and other outdoor amenities, such as brick pavers on the sidewalk and seating outside.

“We’re really going to try to provide some energy on the street,” he said.

He said he plans to include 11 below-market-rate rental units in the property, out of 115-120 total rental units. Including those units allows him, under state “density bonus” law, to build 35% more units than the project would otherwise allow. The units will include a mix of studios, and one- and two-bedroom units. Underground parking is included in the project plans.

Schrader says the project will have the feeling of “European village storefronts” — similar to Telegraph Gardens at Ashby and Telegraph — that are deep set and substantial. The roofline steps back, so those standing or eating nearby will feel more openness overhead.

For residents, a rooftop deck and garden will be available, along with a possible community lounge and health club.

Stonefire, view from University

The Stonefire building would be Schrader’s second project in Berkeley. He recently won final approval from the Berkeley City Council for his Durant and Channing apartment building. Walnut Creek-based Johnson Lyman Architects is handling the designs.

Schrader said he believes Stonefire would, along with Trader Joe’s and Acheson Commons, serve as “anchor projects” that would pull traffic down University and help all the businesses on the street, and contribute to the revitalization of the area.

“For many, that area is probably considered to be kind of forgotten. It’s not on Shattuck. It’s not on BART. There’s a closed movie theater,” he said. “These kinds of projects will help everyone on that street by pulling more activity from ‘Main and Main’ all the way down to MLK for that whole stretch.”

He said he sees his role as a developer as trying “to figure out the highest and best use for a piece of property,” and described himself as “very hands-on” with his technical and engineering teams. He likes to weigh in on everything from paint colors and floor designs to the exterior designs.

“It’s personal to me, and I’m really proud of every project I’ve ever built. I think the city’s going to be really proud of The Durant, and will be proud if we get this one too,” he said. “It’s a really beautiful design for this corner.”

Stonefire, view from Milvia. Image: Johnson Lyman Architects

Over his 30 years in the development business, most of which have been in California, Schrader has designed everything from industrial office space to retail projects and single family homes. Some of his guiding philosophies, he said, include being sensitive to scale and building beyond “the minimums” of what’s required by city code as far as things like amenities or setbacks. He said, though he works on numerous projects at a time, this would be the largest on his plate, and the one he’d likely spend the most time on.

“Developers get such a ‘black cap’ reputation,” he said. “I tend to keep the properties that I build. Everybody has a legacy of some kind: I just like to build things. And I’m really proud of the things I’ve built.”

Schrader said the project could come before the Zoning Adjustments Board in the fall and, if all goes smoothly, he could break ground in 2015 and open Stonefire’s doors in 2016.

Mixed-use 6-story building approved on Addison Street (07.25.13)
City’s largest apartment building ever gets go-ahead (07.11.13)
‘The Durant’ apartments win approval from City Council (06.27.13)
Developers put theaters back into high-rise plans (06.26.13)
Early high-rise plans lack inspiration, say commissioners (03.19.13)
Berkeley zoning board approves 78-unit Durant (03.15.13)
New building proposed for Sequoia site on Telegraph Ave. (02.27.13)
1,000 new apartments planned for downtown Berkeley (02.07.13)
First high-rise in 40 years planned for downtown Berkeley (12.21.12)

Berkeleyside publishes many articles every day. To see all our stories in chronological order, and read ones you may have missed, check out our All the News grid.

Avatar photo

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...