City staff say a proposal for a new building at 2701 Shattuck Ave. is still too big. Image: Lowney Architecture
City staff say a proposal for a new building at 2701 Shattuck Ave. is still too big. Image: Lowney Architecture

A controversial micro-unit mixed-used proposal aimed for a quiet stretch of Shattuck Avenue, south of downtown, is still too big, say Berkeley city staff, who advised zoning board members to deny the application later this week.

The project, at 2701 Shattuck, at Derby, is scheduled for its third review by the city Zoning Adjustments Board on Thursday. The project has received extensive feedback from city commissioners, who asked developers to shrink the project in September, citing concerns about its compatibility with the nearby residential neighborhood.

In response to suggestions made by the city in September to consider dropping the project from five to four stories, or otherwise take off a healthy number of units from the northeast corner, Axis Development Group removed three units and added more community and open space to the project.

City staff, in a report prepared for Thursday’s meeting, said Axis should remove three more units from the fourth floor to allow a more gradual transition into the neighborhood to the east. This would reduce the building height at the northeast corner from 52 to 42 feet.

According to staff, however, Axis rejected recommendations that as many as 12 units be removed from the project’s upper floors, and instead submitted its revised plan, removing only three units.

As a result, wrote city staff, in its recommendation to the zoning board to deny the project, the development remains incompatible with the neighborhood. Staff also wrote that the project is out of scale with the district, as the tallest proposed building on Shattuck south of downtown; that it doesn’t provide an adequate transition to the neighborhood to the east; that it’s out of scale with the residential district; and that the applicant rejected design alternatives suggested by city staff and zoning board members.

Developers removed three units from the top floor, and added open space into the project, in their latest submission. Image: Lowney Architecture
Developers removed three units from the top floor, and replaced it with a landscaped terrace, in the latest submission. Image: Lowney Architecture

The project, as submitted, is a 29,909-square-foot five-story building that reaches 60 feet. It’s set to include 67 studio apartments, a 1,956-square-foot full-service restaurant and 32 parking spaces (30 of which would be accessed via a three-level lift). Units range from 269 to 344 square feet and could cost somewhere between $1,200 and $1,600 a month, according to the developer.

In its latest revision, Axis increased the ground-floor space between its property and the nearest neighbors to the east, according to city staff. Axis also increased the size of a second-floor community room — described by the developer as a resident lounge with a full-sized commercial kitchen, “living room-style seating, a TV/Entertainment area, and a communal dining table” — from about 700 to roughly 1,000 square feet. The room now includes dining and fitness areas.

In addition to removing three units from the fifth floor, Axis added a 912-square-foot deck to the project to increase open space for tenants. (Project history and technical details are available in this staff report.) A roof-top terrace for tenants and a mini-park at street-level, which would be open to the public, are also part of the designs.

According to the statement prepared by Axis for Thursday’s meeting, the project would be constructed to LEED Gold standards. Developers say the project supports alternative transportation via car-share for residents and neighbors; 28 unbundled residential parking spaces; free AC transit passes for residents; 67 secured interior bike parking spaces, with 20 more sidewalk spaces; and BikeLink storage locker cards for every resident.

Residents opposing the project sent roughly 20 letters outlining various issues with the current plans, from the size of the building to the size of the units. They took issue with the building massing, lack of setbacks, encroachment onto public space and the impact on rental rates around town, in addition to other aspects of the project.

Roughly 41 residents, many of whom wrote individual letters as well, signed a joint statement outlining those concerns, which was turned in for consideration by the zoning board. They noted that the developer did not provide a four-story alternative, which they said was requested by the zoning board in September, and called the removal of three units from the project “absolutely not enough.”

“We find this latest lack of responsiveness to be utterly dismissive of the staff, the neighbors, and the ZAB,” they wrote, asking the zoning board to affirm the staff recommendation to deny the project.

The zoning board is scheduled to review the staff recommendations Thursday, and hear from neighbors and the applicant. Staff provided findings for the board to use to deny the project if it affirms the staff position, but the board could choose to take alternative action as well.

Zoning board asks micro-unit developer to shrink proposal (09.27.13)
Berkeley neighbors fight micro-unit proposal on Shattuck (08.20.13)
Developer submits 8-story project for University, Milvia (07.30.13)
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)
Berkeley developer sees future in small, smart apartments (03.08.12)

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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...