Construction work has been underway at Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Dwight for the past few weeks. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Construction work has been underway at Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Dwight for the past few weeks. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Work has started on a project to build a four-story apartment building in central Berkeley after a nearly nine-year gap since the city approved the plans.

The project as it was approved by the city in 2005. Image: Jim Novosel / The Bay Architects
The project as it was approved by the city in 2005 (view from Dwight Way). Image: Jim Novosel / The Bay Architects

According to a construction worker on site last week, the project is expected to take about a year to complete. Overaa Construction, which is based in Richmond, appears to be managing the work that is underway, as evidenced by various signs around the construction site, but has not responded to multiple calls or emails requesting comment about the plans.

A resident who lives near the site alerted Berkeleyside to activity at 2489 Martin Luther King Jr. Way in late September: “It’s a very visible site and now has bulldozers on it and there is no posted information on what is going on.… My understanding is that there were plans before the real estate slump to develop this site and now it may be going ahead but nobody really knows.”

The city approved plans in 2005 for a 21-unit mixed-use building, with an average height of 53 feet, set to include 1,725 square feet of commercial space. City staff said in October that, since then, no new plans have been submitted, so the project under development must comply with what was approved in 2005.

The approved project, on the former site of the Dwight & King Drop-Off Recycling Center, was slated to include three affordable units. Nine of the units were set to have two bedrooms (660-772 square feet); seven were set to have three bedrooms (900-1,060 square feet); and five were set to have a single bedroom (452-685 square feet). (See a breakdown with more detail about the units here.)

According to a staff report prepared in January 2005, after neighbors appealed the zoning board’s approval of the project, “A 1,725-square foot retail unit and several residential units would be located on the first-floor; each of these units would have a small mezzanine. The upper three-stories would contain the remainder of the proposed 21-dwelling condominium units.”

It is unknown whether the units will be offered as condominiums or rentals, as it remains unclear who owns the lot.

Open space would be located toward Martin Luther King Jr. Way at the fourth-floor level, on the roof of the units below, according to the staff report. A driveway on Dwight would lead to an at-grade garage with 23 parking spaces.

Two community members filed appeals after zoning board approval in 2004. One, Margo Lederer Prado, represented the McKinley Block Coalition. Prado questioned the viability of the commercial part of the project; said more parking was needed; asked that building residents not be allowed residential parking permits; took issue with the scale and density of the project; advocated for more setbacks; and questioned the building’s “inappropriate aesthetic,” according to the staff report.

Another appellant, Huiging Fong, said she was worried about building shadowing and the windows overlooking her property to the north, at 2441 Martin Luther King Jr. Way. Fong also took issue with the commercial element of the project; asked for more parking; requested the denial of residential parking permits; said the building was out-of-scale with the neighborhood; requested additional setbacks; opposed the “flat, post industrial” design of the building; and more.

At the appeal session, the Berkeley City Council upheld the zoning board’s decision to approve the project. Council members Max Anderson, Dona Spring and Kriss Worthington abstained from the vote, and Councilman Laurie Capitelli recused himself from the vote because he was on the zoning board when it approved the project.

A confusing history; ownership remains uncertain

"Massive graffiti" has been a problem on the site for years. Photo: Emilie Raguso
“Massive graffiti” has been a problem on the site for years. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Over the years, the site has been marked with “massive graffiti,” which was in evidence recently as construction crews prepared to begin work.

According to a 2004 story in the Berkeley Daily Planet, the property, then a recycling center, had been “on the market for several years since longtime owner John White died.” Several proposals for the site had “fallen through… because of environmental concerns about the site, which at one time housed a gas station.”

When the project received its final approvals in 2005, the property owners were Paul Ugenti of San Jose, and his son, Paul Ugenti Jr., a former linebacker at Cal who, upon graduation, said he wanted to get into real estate development, according to news reports at the time. He had hoped to complete the building by August 2006. (The younger Ugenti, who now appears to live in Seattle, did not respond to requests for comment.)

A deed associated with the parcel, which was filed with the county in May 2013, listed the Ugentis in connection with the property. Also listed in the county file, as an associate, was an entry for PDOG, LLC.

Overaa Construction equipment appears around the job site, but the firm did not respond to multiple requests for information. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Overaa Construction equipment appears around the job site, but the firm did not respond to multiple requests for information. Photo: Emilie Raguso

The limited liability corporation has minimal web presence, but is listed online as having been created in 2007 by Carl Overaa of San Anselmo.

Overaa, reached by telephone over the weekend of Nov. 9, after failing to return several messages, said he did not own the property and had no knowledge of the project. Overaa is the vice president of business development for Overaa Construction which, by all appearances at the job site, is running the 2489 Martin Luther King Jr. Way project.

“I can’t help you,” he said, then seemingly hung up the phone.

According to the real estate website RealtyTrac, the project sold on May 28, 2013, for $1.2 million.

The architect who was working on the project when it was approved, Jim Novosel, said his firm and Ugenti parted ways after the project received its entitlements. As a result, he said, he was unsure of the property’s current ownership.

Berkeley city planning director Eric Angstadt said in October that construction workers had sought approval to pull up an underground storage tank on site. Angstadt said no other permits associated with the project had been filed with the city. He also said he wasn’t sure who owned the site.

The firm of Berkeley real estate broker John Gordon was previously associated with the property. He said that, since the site was sold six years ago, he did not know the current owner.

More recently, San Francisco-based Wheelhouse Investment Real Estate Brokerage had listed the property for sale but, according to a note on the company website, it appears the firm has been absorbed by international real estate firm CBRE. A Wheelhouse broker did not respond to a request for information.

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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)
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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...