UC Berkeley and property owner Ken Sarachan are close to a joint-venture development deal for the long-empty lot at the north-east corner of Haste and Telegraph, which means that new student housing might be in place there by August 2017.
“We are in negotiations, deep negotiations,” said Robert Lalanne, UC’s Vice-Chancellor for Real Estate. Lalanne said he would like to think they are getting very close to a deal.
The university would take over Sarachan’s entitlement of the proposed development for the site: a six-story Moorish, palace-like structure inspired by Italian hill towns, Tibetan forts and the rock-cut architecture of Petra in Jordan. The university would then turn over the project to a developer, who would build the structure. Lalanne declined to name the developer as a contract had not been signed.
If the deal goes through, it would put an end to a 25-year saga that has vexed the city of Berkeley and Sarachan alike. City Councilman Kriss Worthington, who represents the area, once said that the lot “creates more noise complaints, more rats, and more trash than any other single address in his district.”
But because the story of the lot has been so long and tortured, Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates said he wasn’t convinced the deal between Cal and Sarachan would go through. Bates said he would be delighted if it did, but that Sarachan “has been very difficult to work with, inconsistent.”
“Until he signs the deal I won’t believe it,” he said.
The lot at 2501 Haste St. was the home to the Berkeley Inn for decades. It burned down in the 1980s and Sarachan — who also owns Rasputin Records, Blondie’s Pizza, the old Cody’s Building diagonally across from the site, as well as the retail development at 2350 Telegraph — bought the property in 1994. There were a number of existing liens on the site, and Berkeley agreed to forgo them if Sarachan developed the plot, setting an initial deadline of 2004. Sarachan acquired adjacent properties to the east and north of the site in order to build an ambitious project.
Nothing happened for years. The lot sat vacant and was infested with rats. The City Council voted in September 2011 to foreclose on the property, which would have meant Sarachan had to pay off $640,000 in liens, or see the property sold at auction.
At the time, Sarachan, who routinely refuses to talk to reporters, put the blame for the delays on the city’s planning department. He said he had a project ready but had been stymied by city staff.
In April 2012, Sarachan presented plans for the Moorish style building, which was designed by Kirk Peterson. It called for a six-story, 14,000 square foot mixed-use building with ground floor retail, a basement for commercial use, and five floors of 79 one-and two-bedroom apartments.
As Sarachan was moving forward with plans to build on the lot, the city settled its lawsuit with him in October 2013.
The project has been winding its way through the planning process since then. The last official city action was a review of the plans by the Design Review Commission in October 2014. The project has not yet been formally entitled, but Zoning Adjustments Board commissioners have expressed preliminary approval of the project.
UC Berkeley plans to use Sarachan’s Moorish-themed design, but will configure the interior to include four-bedroom suites, said Lalanne. They will probably be reserved for junior college transfer students or other upper-division students, he said.
Once the developer completes the building, Sarachan would be deeded the ground floor and basement areas, said Lalanne. He would own those and could rent them out. The university would have a master lease agreement for the housing units with the developer. Once the developer pays off the mortgage, the property would revert to the university, said Lalanne. In the end, the university would own the upstairs units and Sarachan would own the commercial areas.
Lalanne said he thinks building work could start in the next few months.
“Time is of the essence,” said Lalanne. “We want to get this thing open by fall of ’17.”
If housing is built on the lot, it will mean three corners of the intersection will have been revamped, which should bring new vitality to that end of Telegraph Avenue. Sarachan is converting the old Cody’s Books store into an entertainment center called Mad Monk Center for Anachronistic Media. The owner of the Sequoia Apartments, which burned down in a fire in November 2011, is also rebuilding, with construction work well underway.
‘Moorish palace’ plans for Telegraph show little progress (4.28.14)
‘Moorish-style palace’ for Telegraph Ave. is step closer (12.16.13)
Berkeley settles case with blighted Telegraph lot owner (10.31.13)
Mad Monk Center to rise in old Cody’s space on Telegraph (05.13.13)
Telegraph Avenue property owner shows plan for vacant site (04.19.12)
Can Berkeley’s Telegraph Avenue get its mojo back? (04.18.12)
Telegraph fire site owner plans for temporary resurrection (02.06.12)
City hands ultimatum to Sarachan on vacant Telegraph lot (09.07.11)
What about that vacant lot on Haste and Telegraph? (08.11.11)
Berkeley students want better stores, fewer street people (05.31.11)
City says it is addressing Telegraph Avenue rats problem (02.10.11)
The rats of Telegraph Avenue (video) (01.28.11)
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