As legal proceedings begin, progress remains stalled for vacant lot

Clean-up of the vacant lot on the corner of Telegraph and Haste took place last September.
Tony Zhou/File
Clean-up of the vacant lot on the corner of Telegraph and Haste took place last September.

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Development at the vacant lot at 2501 Haste Street along Telegraph Avenue remains stalled, despite Friday’s court hearing between the city of Berkeley and the lot’s owner.

Last September, the city decided to foreclose on the lot’s $641,000 lien, claiming owner Kenneth Sarachan did not submit a complete permit application to develop the site by the city’s established deadline, despite having agreed to build affordable housing there when he originally took over the property.

Sarachan, who also owns Rasputin Music, Blondie’s Pizza and other businesses along Telegraph Avenue, bought the lot from the city in 1994, assuming the lien owed to the city for the demolition of the building which had burned down at the site years before.

The city filed a complaint against Sarachan in January, calling the lot “a blight on the Telegraph Commercial District” and stating that Sarachan failed to submit all of the required elements of the use permit application.

Sarachan said that slow processing on the part of the city’s Department of Planning and Development is at fault for delaying development at the site.

City Attorney Zach Cowan and Sarachan could not comment on the ongoing litigation, but Sarachan said “the case is irrelevant to any progress on the avenue.”

“(Architect) Kirk Peterson has submitted a drawing, but the Planning and Development Department still hasn’t made any solution,” Sarachan said. “Neither Kirk Peterson or my previous architect can understand what (the department wants).”

Peterson, of Kirk Peterson & Associates Architects, said he and Sarachan began working on plans for the vacant lot around the end of last summer and that the company submitted designs to the city in April. The designs were for a mixed-use building with a commercial development on the bottom floor and apartments on the upper floors.

However, city spokesperson Mary Kay Clunies-Ross said the city determined that the plans submitted in April were incomplete and that no progress has been made toward development since, as no new permit applications have been submitted.

“The most important thing is that we all want to see something built there,” said Roland Peterson, executive director of the Telegraph Business Improvement District. “It is a detriment to the neighborhood. It discourages people from shopping. It discourages people from coming to the area.”

Several members of the surrounding business community agree that something needs to be done about the lot.

“It is a cesspool for rats. The city can’t agree on anything,” said Garrett Hudson, an employee of Mars Mercantile who used to clean out the lot while under Sarachan’s employment. “They need to figure something out that can bring the people together.”

Some have said that Sarachan is leaving the lot empty to discourage customers from shopping at Amoeba Music, the other record store on the avenue, but Sarachan says that those allegations are false.

“How does keeping the lot empty benefit anyone? In what way does that make money?” Sarachan said. “… Anyone could claim anything. It is a completely stupid allegation.”