A rendering of Modera Acheson Commons on University and Shattuck which is due to be completed in mid-2020. Rendering: Mill Creek Residential

Eight years after it was first proposed, and five years after it was finally approved, construction has begun on a new 205-unit apartment complex at 2145 University Ave., a block from the UC Berkeley campus.

Mill Creek Residential, the Texas-based company that acquired the entitled site from Equity Residential in 2016, sent out a press release Wednesday announcing that work had started. The complex, which had previously been called Acheson Commons, will now be known as Modera Acheson Commons.

“The Berkeley market is among the most diverse and educated in the nation, and we’re thrilled to become a part of it,” Dave Fiore, managing director of development, Northern California for Mill Creek Residential, said in the press release. “We believe Modera Acheson Commons will not only address the need for quality housing in a rapidly growing city but also provide an unmatched living experience in the area.”

The project was the largest ever suggested when it was first proposed in 2010. In addition to the apartments, the complex will have 14,000 square feet of retail space, about 20,000 square feet less than detailed in the original plan.

The apartment complex will retain the façades of the historic structures that were built on University Avenue in the early 20th century. New construction will go up behind the old buildings. The 1908 Acheson Physicians’ Building will be converted into residential loft-style homes, according to the release.

A rendering of Modera Acheson Commons on University and Shattuck which is due to be completed in mid-2020 . Rendering: Mill Creek Residential
A rendering of Modera Acheson Commons on University and Shattuck which is due to be completed in mid-2020 . Rendering: Mill Creek Residential

The one-story building on the corner of University and Shattuck avenues will become the six-story MacFarlane Building, named after the candy store that once operated there. The exterior of the former Ace Hardware building will become part of a new six-story building. The Bachenheimer Building, a relatively new structure, will be incorporated into the complex. A new building will be constructed on the northeast portion of the site. Kirk Peterson was the original architect of Acheson Commons.

The complex will have studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments in the four buildings with an average square footage of 716, according to the release. There will be two rooftop decks with barbecues and fire pits, a fitness studio and clubhouse, wi-fi throughout and garage parking.

The website for the project says the units will provide an array of “luxe” features and “chic” amenities. 

“Apartment interiors will be delivered with high-end touches, including custom cabinetry, Energy Star stainless steel appliances, in-home washers and dryers, wood plank-style flooring, high ceilings and built-in shelving,” according to the release. “Select homes will include separate dining and den areas, walk-in closets, loft layouts and private balconies or patios.”

Pets will be allowed.

The complex is expected to be finished by mid-2020. It will pay approximately $600,000 a year in property and other taxes. In lieu of including affordable units, the developer will pay $4 million into Berkeley’s Housing Trust Fund.

“It’s great to see Mill Creek moving forward with Acheson Commons,” Jordan Klein, Berkeley’s economic development manager, wrote in an email. “Of course, the project contributes much needed transit-oriented housing units, and a big payment to our affordable housing trust fund. Alongside other housing and mixed-use developments, the new hotel, infrastructure projects such as BART Plaza, and our new arts and entertainment venues, it’s just the latest example of the massive reinvestment in the vitality of Downtown Berkeley that we’ve seen over the past 3 or 4 years.”

Overview of Modera Acheson Commons. Rendering: Mill Creek Residential

When Acheson Commons was first proposed, community members expressed many concerns about the project, including its large size, the 75-foot height, the fact that the developer would not guarantee using union labor, the number of parking spaces, and the fact that the development would remove eight rent-controlled units from the market. (At least one brown-shingled house was moved.) It also meant that Ace Hardware, at 2155 University Ave., had to leave the home it had occupied since 1945.

The developer at the time made a number of concessions, and the project, which had been appealed to the City Council, was finally approved in 2013.

Since the complex was first suggested, Berkeley adopted a Downtown Area Plan that more clearly spells out what benefits developers must pay in exchange for increased density on lots. The city has also increased the percentage of affordable units it requires from 10% to 20% and raised its in-lieu fee for not including affordable units. The fee was about $28,000 in 2012; it is now $37,000 a unit.

Mill Creek Residential is also the developer of the proposed 18-story tower over the current Walgreens store in downtown Berkeley, at 2190 Shattuck Ave.

This article was updated with new renderings provided by the developer, Mill Creek Residential.

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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 Created California, published in November...