A rendering of The Higby on San Pablo Avenue and Ashby Avenue
A rendering of The Higby on the southeast corner of San Pablo and Ashby avenues. Image: Gerding Edlen

After lying vacant for years, work has begun on a controversial, five-story, 98-unit mixed-use housing development on a lot at the southeast corner of San Pablo and Ashby avenues.

City officials and representatives from Gerding Edlen, the developer, will host a ceremonial “turning of the dirt” ceremony Tuesday at noon. Mayor Tom Bates and Councilman Darryl Moore plan to be there, as well as Brent Gaulke, vice president of Gerding Edlen.

Gerding Edlen, which specializes in infill, sustainable development, bought the property at 3015 San Pablo Ave. and related city entitlements in 2012 from its previous owner, Ali Kashani of CityCentric. The price was not disclosed, although online real estate sites estimated it was worth $38 million. The complex had been known as “Ashby Arts,” but has been renamed “The Higby.”

The name of the project was inspired by Horace A. Higley, the California deputy surveyor who drew Alameda County’s lines back in 1857, said Sarah Maxwell, a publicist for the developer. Researchers hired by the company initially thought his name was Higby, but when it was discovered it was Higley, executives decided to keep “The Higby.”

“They wanted to pay their respects to a man who helped lay the foundations for this community, while putting their own spin on it, so they have decided to stick with Higby,” said Maxwell. “The name is supposed to reflect the surprising twists and turns that come from exploration and discovery.”

The new owners made a few changes to the conception and design of the building, but it remains similar to what the Berkeley City Council approved in 2009.

There will be 98 units, with 15 set aside for affordable housing. Seventy of those units will be studio apartments, and the rest will one-bedroom units, said Gaulke. The apartments will be slightly larger than average new construction in Berkeley, at about 800 square feet, he said. The original concept called for the apartments to be marketed to seniors, but Gaulke said his group now envisions attracting professionals.

The project will also have 1:1 parking and 6,500 square feet of ground floor restaurant and retail space. Gaulke said they are aiming for the building to achieve a LEED Gold certification, and perhaps LEED Platinum.

Gerding Edlen, which is headquartered in Portland, OR, funds its projects with capital from institutional clients. It has an office in San Francisco and has more than $5 billion invested in 60 projects, according to its website.

The new building will sit across the street from a Walgreens and kitty-corner from the Ashby complex that houses Looking Glass Photo, Orchard Supply Hardware, The Back Store and Mancini’s Sleepworld. Berkeley Bowl West is just a few blocks away.

“It’s a transitional area and we like those kinds of areas,” said Gaulke. “It’s an opportunity to do a project that can really help build on what’s there, but also bring some new life to it.”

The Higby will border a residential area, Carrison Street, on its south.

A view of The Higby from San Pablo Avenue
A view of The Higby from Carrison Street. Image: Gerding Edlen

When Kashani first proposed building the complex, Carrison Street neighbors expressed concern that it would draw too much traffic and noise. To assuage some of those concerns, Gerding Edlen has moved the Carrison Street entrance to The Higby closer to San Pablo Avenue and moved the lobby to face San Pablo Avenue, according to plans submitted to the Design Review Board.

The project has proved controversial. After the City Council approved the idea, Berkeley resident Stephen Wollmer took the city to court, charging that it violated the state’s density housing bonus law and did not comply with CEQA. The Alameda County Superior Court denied Wollmer’s claim. It was also denied when Wollmer took that decision to the Appeal Court.

The groundbreaking ceremony for the Higby takes place at 3015 San Pablo Ave. at noon Tuesday. As part of the ceremony, Gerding Edlen will make a contribution to local nonprofit Waterside Workshops, which provides vocational education to at-risk youth through programs such as the Berkeley Boathouse.

Zoning board denies Berkeley micro-unit proposal (11.21.13)
‘The Overture’ apartments planned on University Ave. (11.19.13)
Work underway for 4-story MLK apartments in Berkeley (11.18.13)
Berkeley staff recommend rejection of micro-unit plans (11.13.13)
Berkeley settles case with blighted Telegraph lot owner (10.31.13)

For details and images of many of the new building projects underway in Berkeley, check out Berkeleyside’s recent real estate articles.

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...