Proposed student residential development draws protest from local residents

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More than 100 residents have signed a petition expressing opposition to a new private residential development geared toward students in Downtown Berkeley.

Some residents surrounding the proposed location, particularly in the Stuart Pratt Manor senior community, do not believe the residence will fit in with the current character of the neighborhood due to the building’s height and worry that an influx of students will cause both noise and traffic problems.

The proposed project, spearheaded by the developer, Austin Group, LLC, consists of two adjoining structures, which will be built on two lots — 2024 Durant Ave. and 2025 Channing Way. The Durant structure is planned to be eight stories tall while the Channing structure would be four. The Austin Group, LLC, could not be reached for comment.

The petition calls for the city to downzone properties in the Southwest Downtown area, including 2024 Durant. Many of the residents worry that the proposed number of parking spaces for the building is not enough to meet students’ needs and could exacerbate street parking problems in the area.

“It’s impossible already to park in the neighborhood,” said Kelli Green, head of the Berkeley High Neighborhood Association. “We’ll be lucky to park within blocks of our homes.”

Independent consulting firm Abrams Associates, however, conducted a traffic and parking analysis of the Durant project and concluded that the 38 spaces in the underground parking garage are sufficient for the building’s capacity.

Residents have also expressed concerns over potential noise and the lack of sunlight in the senior home following the construction of the building.

“The tall building would block the sunlight to the seniors,” said Mitsuko Stine, who has lived at Stuart Pratt for about nine years. “Everybody knows that the sunlight is essential to the physical health and mental health. We all have a right to light.”

Many in the neighboring senior home also remain concerned about proposed balconies and windows that would look directly into their own.

“The new building has balconies facing this way, and we have to close the curtain always, so that seems to block more sunlight,” Stine said. “Young people, students, would make a lot of noise. Especially when it is at night.”

In a September letter to the Berkeley Design Review Committee, however, the previous owner, the Presbytery of San Francisco, affirmed its belief that the building’s height would harmonize with the community instead of placing the building in a “virtual ‘hole’ among its taller neighbors.”

The Presbytery first received approval from the Berkeley Planning Commission in September for building the larger eight-story residence after requesting that the lot be reclassified from residential to a commercial mixed-use, which classifies the property in the “buffer” zone and allows the building to be up to 60 feet. A density bonus was also granted, allowing the building to go up to 80 feet, according to Councilmember Jesse Arreguin.

Arreguin, whose district encompasses the project, also cautioned against assuming that the problems raised — such as those concerning noise — were to come to fruition automatically.

“There’s a general feeling that having a large number of students will cause problems,” Arreguin said. “That may not necessarily be true. I think those are concerns that people have, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.”

Arreguin also commented that the residents would not be entirely students as any individual would be able to live in the buildings, while he also stated that he did not yet have a position on the project.

Residents plan to present their concerns at a public hearing regarding the project at the Zoning Adjustment Board’s meeting on Feb. 14, at which time the board can choose how and if to respond.

Megan Messerly covers city government. Contact her at [email protected].

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