2610 Hillegass Ave., Berkeley, CA. Image: Google maps
City staff say this building is already too dense for the neighborhood, and has recommended denial of a proposed remodel. Image: Google maps

A use permit request from a Hillegass Avenue property manager who hopes to convert eight one-bedroom units into two-bedroom apartments has been recommended for denial by the city’s zoning board which meets tonight, Thursday March 13.

The proposal, at 2610 Hillegass, just south of Parker Street, would not change the building’s size, but would result in the remodel of all of the building’s one-bedroom units into two-bedrooms. The 23-unit building currently includes 10 two-bedroom units and five three-bedroom apartments.

In the report prepared for Thursday night’s Zoning Adjustments Board meeting, staff say that, technically, the project could be approved because the size of the building would not change.

But staff explain that the building already exceeds the density limits for the neighborhood in a variety of ways, from its height and number of units, to the number of stories and its limited setbacks and open space. The area is zoned for two-family residential houses, and is considered “low medium density residential” under the city’s General Plan.

“The proposed project would involve a 19% increase in the number of bedrooms on a property that is already developed substantially over the R-2 limits for building size, coverage, open space and residential density,” according to the staff report.

Staff explain in the report that “it would be potentially inconsistent with the neighborhood and intent of the zoning to further increase the on-site population beyond the existing non-conforming status,” and hence recommend denial of the project’s use permit.

Until last fall, this type of remodel would not have required a use permit, but the Berkeley City Council voted last year to require these permits, along with a public hearing, for the residential addition of any bedroom beyond the fifth as part of an attempt to regulate the proliferation of mini-dorms in the city.

According to a statement submitted in late February, applicant and manager Sam Sorokin of Oakland-based Premium Properties said he believes the remodel would have little impact on neighbors. He notes that, for the most part, three people live in each one-bedroom apartment, with two sharing the bedroom and a third in the living room.

“Because we are dealing with same size apartment, the space we use to create this new bedroom comes from remodeling the kitchen and making the living room smaller. Thus, the total number of people living in these apartments typically stays the same or maybe increases by at most one person,” he wrote.

Sorokin said he doesn’t see increased problems with parking as a result of the project either.

“With respect to parking, we have found that over the past 5 years fewer and fewer students bring their cars to campus. With the cost of tuition, gas, insurance and housing, and their access to a free bus pass, BART and car share programs, it is simply expensive and unnecessary,” he wrote. “We currently have around 15 empty parking spaces in the building, where 5 years ago we had a waiting list. We have been charging $75 per month, but we have very few takers.”

Sorokin wrote that the building already has eight remodeled units and that it has, in fact, cut down on issues with noise because, as a result of a smaller living room, “our residents tend to go elsewhere to party.” A “conscientious resident manager who enforces quiet hours” also helps ensure that neighbors aren’t disturbed.

Ultimately, he wrote, the remodel generally allows the person sleeping in the living room to move into a private space, and also results in the installation of “a much more modern looking kitchen is installed, which everyone likes.” The conversions also tend to require new electrical wiring, better smoke detection systems, seismic improvements and better insulation.

“We know that what we are building is desirable because our residents are renting them faster and for more money than our traditional apartments,” he wrote. “It is important to note, that these layouts may not be what you all may prefer, but for our demographic it is perfect.”

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‘Explosive’ downtown Berkeley housing boom under way (01.14.14)
‘Moorish-style palace’ for Telegraph Ave. is step closer (12.16.13)
New 120-foot building proposed for downtown Berkeley (12.09.13)
Berkeley officials crack down on ‘mini-dorms’ (07.24.13)

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

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...