The corner of University Avenue and California Street could get a lot busier after the Berkeley City Council signed off on a developer’s plan for a 207-unit apartment building there.
Dozens of neighbors had sought to block the eight-story project at 1598 University Ave., but councilmembers voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve it, noting it complies with local and state housing regulations.
“Under state law, we really don’t have any wiggle room or discretion to compel this project to be smaller or less dense — nor do I think that trying to do so would serve our housing, affordability or climate goals,” Councilmember Mark Humbert said.
The project from developer NX Ventures would mainly be made up of studio and one-bedroom apartments, and occupy multiple lots totaling roughly 30,000 square feet that are now home to North Beach Pizza, Hanwen School and their parking lots.
It will include 21 affordable apartments for renters considered “very low income,” which in Berkeley means an individual making less than $51,800 per year. The developer is also expected to pay a fee into Berkeley’s Housing Trust Fund to meet local affordable housing requirements, although following recent changes to how those fees are calculated, city staff said they did not know how much that would be.
The building will offer about 6,000 square feet of commercial space, 39 parking spots for cars and storage space for 92 bicycles.
Like other projects along University and San Pablo avenues — two major corridors Berkeley views as ripe for new development that are surrounded by single-family homes and smaller apartment buildings — the proposal sparked opposition from residents who bristled at sharing a block with an eight-story building.
Berkeley’s Zoning Adjustments Board unanimously approved the 1598 University Ave. project in May, but nearby residents appealed the decision to the City Council.
In the appeal, neighbor Elizabeth Kowal wrote that the city had underestimated the project’s negative impacts on existing residents, “including environmental and safety concerns, parking burdens, noise, shadowing, privacy and the devaluation of property.” Adopting a slogan from the years-long debate over development at the nearby North Berkeley BART station, opponents drafted an online petition titled “Let’s welcome neighbors, not new towers!” that called on the city to block the project and order it to be redesigned.
But a slate of recent California housing laws and regulatory actions have slashed local governments’ authority to reject new housing or order changes that downsize projects. Housing activists, developers and other proponents of the changes say they were necessary because Berkeley and other cities across California for decades bowed to complaints like those raised by the neighbors of 1598 University Ave. and blocked new housing, fueling the current affordability crisis.
At Tuesday’s meeting, neighbors derided the project as a “behemoth” and an “eight-story shear wall,” while others lamented that it would not include more affordable apartments or larger units for families.
“We don’t just want mostly student housing, market-rate housing, as the main new building in our neighborhood,” Kowal told the City Council.
Later in the meeting, architect Isaiah Stackhouse of the firm Trachtenberg Architects, which designed the building, responded, “Not all projects can provide everything for everyone, but they all make a dent in the housing crisis.”
Councilmember Sophie Hahn said she hoped additional information about the project provided at Tuesday’s meeting would help allay some of the neighbors’ concerns, such as misconceptions about how close the building would sit to nearby homes, which she said could have been addressed with better communication.
“I don’t think there’s anybody sitting here at the dais who would not find it to be a big change to suddenly have an eight-story building right next door,” Hahn said. “Even if they support it, I think they would still find it to be a big change, and it’s something that they would want to better understand.”
"*" indicates required fields