Green boards cover numerous storefronts on University Avenue, the future site of the 205-unit complex known as Acheson Commons. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

The sea-green particleboards that have sprung up on storefronts on University Avenue, and around the corner on Shattuck Avenue, are not a reflection of urban blight.

Instead, they indicate that the new owners of that block, Mill Creek Residential Trust, are readying the property for the overhaul that was approved by Berkeley in 2013. The company will start construction on Acheson Commons, a 205-unit apartment complex at 2133 University Ave., in mid-summer, according to Jason Overman, a director at Lighthouse Public Affairs. Construction should take about two years.

Mill Creek is a Texas-based company with numerous projects in the Bay Area. In addition to the Acheson Commons project, Mill Creek is the developer that intends to build an 18-story structure on the current site of the Walgreen’s at Shattuck Avenue and Allston Way.

Mill Creek purchased Acheson Commons from Equity Residential in September. Equity Residential put its portfolio of eight Berkeley apartment complexes with 452 apartments on the market in November 2015, but has only sold this parcel so far. Equity, a publicly traded company started by the Chicago developer Sam Zell, hoped to sell the entire portfolio because it was shifting its focus to high-end urban properties rather than university-related ones, John Hyjer, first vice-president of investment for Equity Residential, told Berkeleyside in September. It later removed the package from the market.

A rendering of what Acheson Commons should look like. Image: Rhoades Planning Group

Mill Creek Residential is sticking to the plan approved by City Council. Designed originally by the architect Kirk Peterson, it calls for the historic façades of the buildings in the 2100 block of University Avenue to be retained, with construction rising behind them.

In the plan, the one-story building on the corner of University and Shattuck avenues would be redone as the six-story MacFarlane Building, named after the candy store that once operated there. The historic Acheson Physicians Building in the middle of the block, currently used as offices, would become apartments with a restored exterior.  The exterior of the former Ace Hardware building, which is landmarked, would be incorporated into a new six-story building. The Bachenheimer Building, a relatively new structure, would be incorporated into the complex. There will be 34,000 square feet of commercial space in the building.

When the project was first approved, it was the largest in Berkeley’s history. But there has been a building boom in the ensuing four years and other projects in the works are even bigger. 2211 Harold Way will have 302 apartments. Shattuck Terrace Green Apartments at 2190 Shattuck Ave. will have 274 units.

A man sits in from of the old Acheson Physician’s building at 2125 University Ave. It will become part of the larger Acheson Commons complex. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Equity Residential first proposed the Acheson Commons project in 2010 and donated $25,000 to the Yes on Measure R campaign, an advisory measure that laid out plans for a more densely developed downtown. It passed with 64% of the vote in November of that year. However, the call for community benefits outlined in the new Downtown Area Plan (DAP) did not apply to Acheson Commons since they were not finalized until after DAP became law.

The project should increase the city’s annual tax revenue by $600,000, according to Mark Rhoades of the Rhoades Planning Group, which helped steer the project through Berkeley’s planning process.

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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...