Plans for vacant Telegraph lot meet obstacles

The western view of the building.
Kirk Peterson/Courtesy
The western view of the building.

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The designs for a new project that would fill a long-vacant lot on Telegraph Avenue have been completed but will have to face some obstacles before any plans can come to fruition.

Although it has been empty for about 20 years, the lot — at 2501 Haste St. — could soon become a six-story mixed retail and residential building that would include dozens of apartments on top of a main retail floor and a basement space. The designs were revealed Tuesday night by property owner Ken Sarachan and architect Kirk Peterson and feature a craggy facade along the lower half of the building in an aesthetic reminiscent of a rocky cliff with carved-out window arches and doors.

These are the latest developments in a decades-long ordeal that has been under way since the building that last occupied the space, the Berkeley Inn, burned down in 1990. Sarachan — who owns various properties along Telegraph, including Blondie’s Pizza, Rasputin Music and T-Shirt Orgy — bought the lot from the city in 1994 and has since been involved in feuds with the city, the latest of which is a lawsuit the city filed Jan. 26 to pressure him into developing the property.

In order to move forward with these new plans and for construction on a building to begin, Sarachan must agree to physically transport a Victorian house, known as the Woolley House, that sits adjacent to the vacant lot.

John Gordon, a real estate developer in Berkeley, has had a project proposal pending with the city since 2007 to rehabilitate and move the house to his site at Regent Street and Dwight Way, where he would convert the building into a five-unit apartment building.

However, the house cannot be relocated until Sarachan conducts an environmental impact review of the house as per state law. Gordon said he does not know why Sarachan has not done this yet and that he thinks moving the Woolley House to his lot would be an easy option, as it is only a block away.

Sarachan could not be reached for comment as of press time.

Regarding the design for the new building, Gordon said that “anything is an improvement” from the vacant lot that stands there now.

“It’s a big project, and it will be a good shot in the arm to the avenue,” he said.

The project is welcome news to Telegraph business owners who have been operating in the neighborhood amid many empty storefronts and vacant lots, particularly after the November Haste Street fire reduced the historic Sequoia Building, which housed many apartment units and two popular eateries, to rubble.

“The proposal for the building was quite beautiful,” said Al Geyer, owner of Telegraph business Annapurna and chair of the Telegraph Merchants Association, of Peterson’s design.

But while the project would be an improvement to the neighborhood, Geyer said, it is a moot discussion until the Woolley House issue can be resolved.

“The owner and the city need to move on with this and get it started,” he said. “Once it’s there, it will be a tremendous asset to Berkeley.”

Annie Sciacca covers city government.