A rendering of what 1900 Fourth St. may one day look like. Image: TCA Architects
A rendering of what 1900 Fourth St. may one day look like. Image: TCA Architects

The owners of an empty lot on Fourth Street that’s a designated city landmark related to Ohlone Indian archeological remains have applied to build a mixed-use development on the site, adding to a burst of similar building in West Berkeley.

The move was expected after a recent archeological investigation of the property at 1900 Fourth, across the street from Spenger’s restaurant and used as a parking lot, failed to find anything of significance, according to a report commissioned by property owners, developers Ruegg & Ellsworth.

Read more about West Berkeley.

The 2014 investigation was the most recent chapter in a long, contentious debate about the history of the land and the boundaries of the well-documented West Berkeley Shellmound, a 30-foot-high hill of discarded shells, bones and other debris from years of Ohlone activity.

The proposed 1900 Fourth project, a cluster of three buildings, calls for 33,000 square feet of ground floor retail and restaurant space, with a mix of studio and one- and two-bedroom apartments above. Open-air plazas and a “paseo” walkway along Fourth and Hearst Avenue are part of the plan. (A similar “paseo” design has been proposed across the street on the Spenger’s block itself.)

A zoning application for the project was submitted to the city April 1.

“Investigators found no historically significant remnants of the West Berkeley Shellmound within the parking lot grounds and have concluded that it is highly unlikely that such remnants exist within the property,” says the application filed with the city.

“It is the sincere hope of the researchers and sponsors of this study that the findings and conclusions advance general understanding of the history of the site and its surroundings, and contribute to fact-based land-use decisions and policy-making going forward.”

Under the city’s building permitting process, the site’s landmark status is taken under consideration along with other background, including the recent archeological report.

The proposal, submitted by planning consultant Mark Rhoades — of Rhoades Planning Group — who once worked as a planner for the city, calls for 135 residential units, nearly 400 parking spaces (for residents, restaurant and retail users, and the general public), and 236 bike parking spots.

“A key purpose of the project is to contribute to an already successful retail environment. As its prime design tenet, the project is proposed to address the existing small scale pedestrian-oriented environment of Fourth Street,” the application says. “The retail spaces have a variety of architectural forms and styles to contextually fit in with and expand the wonderfully eclectic nature of existing Fourth Street shops.”

The ground level view from the corner of Fourth and University Avenue. Image: TCA Architects
The ground level view from the corner of Fourth and University Avenue. Image: TCA Architects

According to project documents, the rear portion of the site, along the Amtrak railroad tracks, would become a five-level parking garage.

There are 372 parking spaces proposed, where 222 are required: 135 for residential, 50 for the restaurant and 37 for retail tenants. That’s a surplus of 150 spaces. The project also seeks to add parallel parking along its Fourth Street frontage.

This parking plan is “significantly greater than that required by the City,” the application says. “The parking garage is specifically designed to avoid motorists circling looking for parking, which is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.”

Now and later: The current view and proposed view at Fourth Street and Hearst Avenue. Image: TCA Architects
Now and later: The current view and proposed view at Fourth Street and Hearst Avenue. Image: TCA Architects

As required in Berkeley, the proposal also designates 10%, or 11 of the apartments, as affordable for the city’s “very low” income residents under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development standard of 50% of the area median income, which in Berkeley is $46,450 for a family of four. Developers have the choice either to include that housing on site, or pay into a city fund in lieu of building those units.

Including the units on site allows the project to qualify for a density bonus and other modifications, under city and state housing laws. According to the application, the density bonus would allow for up to 146 units, rather than the proposed 135. But the project does ask for height modifications.

The application says: “The project will create a gateway that is a statement to those entering the City. The project spans a diversity of elements and contexts, each of its own articulation and massing, with varied floor levels and roof shapes, with a range of materials, and with diverse architectural details.”

More than 30 people attended a session in March held by the developers. According to the application submitted to the city, questions came up at that meeting regarding additional archeological work, the project’s approach to parking and green features, and the intended commercial tenants: “The team intends to hold further smaller-group stakeholder meetings with members of the neighborhood and community as the planning process continues.”

Track the project on the city website. No hearings have yet been scheduled before the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board or Design Review Committee. Read the applicant statement.

There is a community meeting scheduled for Tuesday, May 26, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at Spenger’s, at 1919 Fourth St. Read more about Fourth Street in past Berkeleyside coverage, and on the project website.

Housing to replace Berkeley Grocery Outlet building (01.22.15)
New beer garden, retail planned on Spenger’s block (09.25.14)
Development may come to Spenger’s lot in Berkeley (07.28.14)
A dig in a Berkeley parking lot seeks shellmound answers (02.03.14)

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Freelancer Catherine "Kate" Rauch has been contributing to Berkeleyside for several years. Her work as a journalist has encompassed everything from 10 years as a daily news reporter for the East Bay Times,...