Day care project moves forward despite neighbor complaints

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Following a contentious two-year process, construction on a day care center project in central Berkeley will move forward after receiving the City Council’s approval Tuesday.

The two-story home at 2329 Grant St. can now begin construction of additional residential space and establish a small day care center. Despite dissent from neighbors, the City Council approved the resolution with eight votes in favor and one abstaining vote, affirming the Zoning Adjustments Board’s earlier approval in June.

The resolution follows a series of negotiations and public hearings with neighbors, applicants and the city. The plan will allow Berkeley residents Catarina Negrin and Noah Friedman to move forward with construction and establishment of a day care center for up to 15 children on the building’s first floor.

Councilmember Jesse Arreguin — whose district encompasses the residency — abstained from voting after his motion to hold a public hearing for further discussion was denied.

“(I’m concerned about) the cumulative impact of having more commercial use in a residential neighborhood,” Arreguin said. “This has been a divisive project. It’s pitted neighbors against neighbors.”

In July, residents Don Simonds and Mary Sawatzki filed an appeal against the construction signed by 35 people. Their concerns involve increased traffic and noise as well as new shadows from the building’s increased height.

Negrin and Friedman originally filed an application for the the residential addition and child care center in 2010. But after a public hearing in March and an unsuccessful mediation meeting with neighbors in April, the applicants had to revise and submit a new construction plan for the Zoning Adjustments Board to review.

“The community did not want this project,” Simonds said to the council on Tuesday. “We’d like some more consideration. Please listen to us, really, about traffic.”

Additionally, resident John Westlake said Grant Street is already severely affected by traffic from other local schools, including Washington Elementary School and Berkeley High School.

Neighbors were divided on the project, however, and some reached out in support of the day care center.

“I believe our neighborhood is healthier and stronger because there are so many kids and teachers here,” resident Carol Wilkins wrote in a letter to the board in February. “We’re surrounded by kids here — and 15 won’t be a big difference.”

To reduce the potential impact of the project, the Zoning Adjustments Board added provisions prohibiting double parking and using car horns, among other conditions. The day care will also have staggered pickup and drop-off times, which the board claims will mitigate impact.

Construction can begin now that the project has gone through both the board and the City Council.

“Some of us would like to say the fight goes on or whatever,” Westlake said. “But it really doesn’t.”

Contact Libby Rainey at [email protected].