Proposed condominium in Downtown Berkeley goes through final review stages

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Karin Goh/Staff

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A proposed Downtown condominium development project is entering the final stages of its design review, which, if approved, would include a 12-story mixed residential and commercial building on Shattuck Avenue.

The city’s Design Review Committee met Thursday to continue its preliminary review of the project before submitting recommendations to the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board for final approval. The proposal was originally submitted by the Nasser family — which owns the property — in December 2013.

The committee recommended to make the structure more “elegant” and the public space in and around the building more secure. The architecture firm in charge of the development, the Bay Architects, incorporated most of the committee’s recommendations into the design.

If completed, the project’s 12,000 feet of commercial space and 92 condominiums would displace existing businesses on 1951-1975 Shattuck Ave., including Berkeley Vacuum, Cutaway and the Missing Link Bicycle Cooperative annex.

Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, who represents the district where the condominium and other new developments would be located, supports a mix of new housing options Downtown, including affordable housing, as well as new public spaces — such as parks — that the project would incorporate. Arreguin said new development should take existing businesses and community needs into account.

“A lot of Downtown development sites displace businesses that have been there for generations,” Arreguin said. “One of the things we have to do as a city is mitigate the impact these projects have on local businesses.”

Arreguin said housing developers should either provide monetary compensation for existing businesses to relocate or work with such businesses to find new commercial space.

Longtime owner of Berkeley Vacuum Gerald Seegmiller expressed concern about the effects that the proposed development would have on his business and other local service providers. If the condominium is built, Berkeley Vacuum will have to either close or make a financially improbable change of location.

“If (the proposed development) is successful, they will have succeeded in making a negative impact on the city,” Seegmiller said. “It will impact businesses like us, small entrepreneurial endeavors that have been a huge benefit for Berkeley.”

Developers hope the building will “look like it belongs in Berkeley” while also providing new housing for adults close to Downtown shops, restaurants and transportation.

Zoning board commissioner Igor Tregub said developments in Berkeley will stimulate the local economy and lend “an influx of vibrancy” to the Downtown area, as well as preserve historic structures, small businesses and affordable housing, if executed properly.

“(These goals) … need not be incompatible with preserving what makes Berkeley such a special city,” Tregub said. “If (they) were to happen, then there may be less suspicion in the community around development.”

Contact Madeleine Pauker at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @powkur.

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article quoted Zoning Adjustments Board Commissioner Igor Tregub as saying that a proposed Downtown condominium development could stimulate the local economy and add vibrancy to the Downtown area. In fact, Tregub was referring to developments in general, rather than any particular development.