Update, Oct. 30: Neighbors filed an appeal in late September. Council may hear that appeal Thursday, Nov. 17, in a special meeting. Stay tuned for updates.
Original post, Sept. 14: One of Berkeley’s largest sales tax generators won a significant victory Thursday night when the city’s zoning board granted use permits to Berkeley Honda to open in the former Any Mountain shop on Shattuck Avenue.
The fight may not be over, however, as neighbors who oppose the project say they may appeal the decision to the Berkeley City Council. Many of those neighbors made their opposition clear Thursday night, with nearly 40 of them testifying during public comment before the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board.
Still others who came to speak against the permits reportedly left due to the lateness of the hour. Public testimony did not begin until 10:30 p.m., and the vote did not take place until 1:25 a.m.
Speakers said they support Berkeley Honda and its workers, but don’t think it’s the right location for auto repairs. Until recent years, that type of use was not allowed in their neighborhood, they have said. The Adeline Corridor is also undergoing a public planning process, and neighbors have said that process should have a chance to conclude before significant decisions are made that will impact the neighborhood’s future.
A handful of supporters for Berkeley Honda testified before the board, but all of them were Berkeley Honda employees.
In November 2014, Berkeley Honda left its longtime location at 2600 Shattuck Ave. to make way for a large mixed-use development called Parker Place currently under construction in the neighborhood. After struggling since 2008 to find an appropriate new location, the business has said it came to an agreement with the property owner of 2777 Shattuck, two blocks from 2627 Shattuck, after Any Mountain requested an early termination of its lease there.
Berkeley Honda has been trying since at least early 2015 to win over neighbors and get city approval for that spot, which was the original Berkeley Bowl location. The structure at one time housed an actual bowling alley and has a long history in Berkeley. The project architect for the new Berkeley Honda space is David Trachtenberg, whose firm also designed the new Berkeley Bowl location two blocks south.
Project representative Ali Kashani said Thursday’s hearing was the ninth Berkeley Honda has attended.
“This neighborhood is very well organized and has very smart people who are very persistent and very resourceful,” he said. “They are used to winning. And so it was a hard fought battle.”
Initially, the zoning board seemed inclined to postpone the vote to collect more information about traffic circulation in the area. But ultimately board members voted 7-2 in favor of the project. (Commissioners Shoshana O’Keefe and John Selawsky — a substitute — were in opposition.)
As part of the approval, and in response to commissioner and neighborhood concerns, the zoning board specified a number of changes to the prepared conditions of approval submitted by city staff before the meeting.
The board told Berkeley Honda it needs to make some physical changes inside the building to curtail noise for nearby neighbors, and will have to follow up with a noise study — focused on neighborhood impacts to the east — before being granted its final occupancy certificate.
It also required Berkeley Honda to free up four additional parking spots for customers — doubling what had been proposed — in the triangle lot in front of the business, and said it must allow employee parking inside the dealership on Sundays, when another lot used the rest of the week will be locked, as per a pre-existing agreement.
The board said Berkeley Honda would have to work with the city’s traffic engineer to refine the southbound lane configuration such that left turns into the service area would not block other southbound traffic, including AC Transit buses. The traffic flow is to be studied six months after occupancy to see if it is working or if changes are needed.
Service hours will end at 6 p.m. Saturdays, and there will be no service allowed at all Sundays, the board said.
In addition, test driving is not to be permitted — by either Honda mechanics or Honda customers — in the nearby residential neighborhood, including on Ward and Stuart streets. Complaints from neighbors about violations could lead to a revocation of use permits, board members said. If there are issues with test driving, the board said the city could look into possible traffic calming devices, such as bollards, that would be paid for by Berkeley Honda.
Board members said Honda should meet with neighbors on an annual basis to ensure all the agreements are being followed. At least some of the neighbors in attendance seemed, for now, uninterested in that suggestion and shook their heads when the idea arose.
Kashani said he appreciated all the feedback from the board, the neighbors, and other city bodies — such as the Design Review Committee — that have reviewed the project. And he said he’s hopeful that, one day, the neighbors and Berkeley Honda will be able to work together.
“Honda has been a good neighbor up the street. And it’s not like a newcomer,” he said. “All along Honda wanted to do what was right by the neighborhood.”
But he said there may still be a long road ahead, and that he is expecting neighbors to file a lawsuit even if council approves the project on appeal.
Kashani said neighbors have already raised questions through attorneys about what they believe was an inadequate environmental review process; the city attorney’s office previously deemed the project exempt from CEQA analysis.
Kashani said he is not worried because the city has never lost a CEQA case. He recalled one challenge that went all the way to the state Supreme Court; in the end, the city prevailed.
“I think the staff did a very thorough job of really considering all the aspects of this project,” he said. “I feel very confident that we were in good hands.”
In a prepared statement, neighbors called the zoning board vote a vote “in favor of the fossil fuel economy” and said the project is not in line with the South Shattuck Strategic Plan that guides the area’s development.
“For the last quarter century our city’s policy has been not to allow any new car dealerships, even relocated ones, in this area,” the statement reads. “At the request of Berkeley Honda in 2013 the city council quietly rezoned our neighborhood. Berkeley Honda’s use permit, if upheld, would be the first such permit granted under this new scheme.”
They said, too, the 2013 zoning code revision to allow auto repairs in the neighborhood only permits them as an ancillary, or subordinate, use. They say they are concerned proposed operations at Berkeley Honda will not comply with those rules, and worry that city enforcement about a variety of requirements will be too lax.
Council overturns landmark designation where Berkeley Honda hopes to open (03.24.16)
Landmark designation another hurdle for Berkeley Honda (01.29.16)
Berkeley Honda says its future is at risk (10.09.15)
Adeline report highlights desire for affordable housing (09.01.15)
LeConte residents express concern about Berkeley Honda’s move (04.02.15)
Berkeley Honda hopes to take over Any Mountain space (02.25.15)
Shop Talk: The ins and outs of Berkeley businesses (01.13.15)
Council to consider zoning change for ‘auto row’ dealers (09.27.11)
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