The Berkeley City Council has approved plans for a six-story apartment building on San Pablo Avenue near the Albany border.
The 66-unit development would occupy what is now a 13,000-square-foot vacant lot at 1201 San Pablo Ave., at Harrison Street. It is set to include five apartments for renters considered very low income, about 1,700 square feet of commercial space on its ground floor and a garage with 17 to 28 parking spaces.
The project faced vocal resistance from residents in the neighborhood surrounding the site, many of whom complained that it was too big for the area.
But despite that opposition — and Berkeley’s reputation for drawn-out debates over new developments — plans for the project advanced through the city’s approval process with few changes.
That outcome is a testament to the impact of SB 330, a 2018 state law that speeds up approvals for developments that comply with local zoning rules. Berkeley planning staff have created an expedited approval process for projects like the one at 1201 San Pablo Ave. to follow the law’s requirement that cities not subject those proposals to more than five public meetings.
The fight over a plan to build a 6-story apartment building on a vacant lot illustrates a power shift driven by California’s housing crisis.
Supporters argue the law — one of several pieces of state housing legislation passed in recent years that have slashed cities’ authority to reject new development — is a necessary step to curtail the power local governments have long wielded to block or delay housing, leading to a shortage of homes that fuels the current affordability crisis. Opponents contend those laws strip communities of the ability to provide input on new housing, and hand over too much power to developers.
Berkeley’s Zoning Adjustments Board unanimously approved the plans for 1201 San Pablo Ave. in April. Yvette Bozzini, who owns a small home next to the project site, joined with another neighbor, Dan Hayes, to appeal the zoning board’s decision to the City Council.
The appeal sought several concessions from the developer, such as moving the entrance to the parking garage from the Harrison Street side of the building, where it would be a few yards from Bozzini’s home, to the San Pablo Avenue side.
Milpitas resident Su Lanhai is listed in local records as the property’s owner, though the site is on the market.
Councilmembers voted unanimously to dismiss the neighbors’ appeal and approve the project. However, they agreed with the request to move the parking garage entrance — the developer will be required to make that change if Caltrans, which has jurisdiction over San Pablo Avenue because the thoroughfare is a state highway, determines it is feasible.