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The Nasser family has owned this building complex at the southeast corner of Shattuck and Berkeley Way since 1950 and now plans to turn it into a 12-story apartment complex. Photo: Google Streetview

A San Francisco family that has owned a block of stores on Shattuck Avenue and Berkeley Way since 1950 is planning to build a 120-foot tall apartment complex, called L’Argent, that will cater to empty nesters and families.

The Nasser family, whose ancestor, Abraham Nasser, built the Castro Theater in San Francisco and was instrumental in popularizing Nickelodeon theaters, will submit an application to Berkeley on Dec. 19, according to Jim Novosel, whose firm, The Bay Architects, is designing the project. Novosel’s group will hold a public hearing on the complex Wednesday at 3 p.m. at Bistro Liaison, 1849 Shattuck Ave.

The 12-story, mixed-use development at 1951-1975 Shattuck Ave. will have 78 apartments of 1,200-1,600 square feet on 10 floors, and retail space on two floors, said Novosel. The complex will be set back along Shattuck Avenue to create a plaza, and will be set back 14-17 feet along Berkeley Way as well.

“We are going for a middle-class housing market,” said Novosel, who is also a Berkeley Planning Commissioner. “We are going for people who are trying to get down from the hills, who want to give up their big homes…. who want to move downtown but live in spacious apartments, not student apartments.”

The units will be comparable in size to many of the bungalows in the Berkeley flats, he said.

Berkeley’s Downtown Plan allows for the construction of five tall buildings ranging from 120 feet to 180 feet high. One project, the 17-story 355-unit Residences at Berkeley Plaza at 2211 Harold Way, is winding its way through the city planning process. Another group is working on a design for a 180-foot hotel and office complex on the Bank of America site at Shattuck Avenue and Center Street, according to sources who asked not to be named. That group might also submit an application within the next few weeks.

The proposed apartment complex at 1951-1975 Shattuck Ave. will displace a number of small stores lining Berkeley Way and Shattuck Avenue, including Berkeley Vacuum, and The Cutaway, among others.

The owners of Berkeley Vacuum & Sewing Center, brothers Gerald and Chris Seegmiller, only heard on Saturday that the Nasser family wants to tear down their building and replace it. Gerald Seegmiller was still trying to process the news on Monday, and he veered between despair and resignation, not sure if the business could find an affordable location and retrain its customers to follow them. Novosel told him that it would take from two to three years for the project to win approval, and that the businesses could stay through then.

“We’ve been a small Berkeley business for decades — literally,” said Seegmiller. “It’s not too pleasant. “Leases are skyrocketing. Available property in parts of Berkeley I would like to have my business in are not available, are not to be found. We are the same as Berkeley Ace Hardware — we have no place to go.”

Seegmiller said Berkeley Vacuum supports five families, and the new structure “will deeply impact people who have been depending on the business for a long time.”

Novosel did not have any design drawings to share, but said his firm would bring renderings to the Wednesday meeting at Bistro Liaison. Berkeleyside will publish the drawings when they are available.

Work begins on controversial Berkeley housing project (12.03.13)
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)
First high rise in 40 years planned for downtown Berkeley (12.12.12)

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

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...