City Council overturns classification of original Berkeley Bowl as structure of merit

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Audrey McNamara/Staff

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At its Tuesday meeting, Berkeley City Council voted to overturn the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s December decision to classify the original Berkeley Bowl building as a “structure of merit.”

Despite significant alterations to the structure in the 1990s, the commission voted to approve the “structure of merit” designation. The property at 2777 Shattuck Ave. — originally a bowling alley built in the 1940s — was the first location of the Berkeley Bowl grocery store.

The building was originally considered for landmark status by the commission, but it found that it did not meet the specific criteria for this designation, according to a city report for the Tuesday meeting submitted by Eric Angstadt, the former city planning and development director.

The commission cited the building’s streamline moderne architecture and its historical significance to the city as qualifying criteria, according to the city report. The report also noted that the commission wished to preserve building features including the central tower, the vaulted area and the horizontality of the building.

The designation, however, was disputed by building owner Glenn Yasuda, who submitted an appeal stating that the initial application for landmark status was hostile to the proposed user — Berkeley Honda.

According to Tim Beinke, owner of Berkeley Honda, the dealership decided to relocate to the previously unoccupied building in 2015. He added that the area where the structure is located had been designated for auto dealerships in 2012 and that the Fiat and Dodge dealerships were already located across the street from the building.

“We have been a good neighbor for 40 years on South Shattuck,” Beinke said. “We’re moving a block and a half south in the same neighborhood.”

In April 2015, the dealership submitted an application to expand the floor area of the building. Because of the building’s age, the proposed remodel had to be approved by the commission, according to Beinke.

The commission made no substantive changes to the proposal, according to the commission’s staff report. Issues regarding the classification of the structure arose after more than 50 Berkeley residents submitted a Landmark Initiation Application to the commission Oct. 1 to designate the building a landmark.

In correspondence submitted to Shannon Allen, secretary of the Zoning Adjustments Board, city residents cited traffic, parking and pedestrian safety as reasons for their opposition.

“(The Berkeley Honda project) is inappropriate for this location,” wrote Jane Kitchel, a Berkeley resident, in an email to Allen in March 2015. “It is not a neighborhood-serving business.”

City Council, however, believed that the 1990s alterations disqualified the building from being a structure of merit and voted in favor of the appeal against the designation, said Sally Zarnowitz, secretary of the commission.

Beinke said the presence of the Honda dealership would bring many benefits to the city.

“We are one of the largest tax revenue generators in the city and we provide a lot of good union jobs,” Beinke said.

Contact Shradha Ganapathy at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sganapathy_dc.

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  • dwss5

    Article quote:

    In correspondence submitted to Shannon Allen, secretary of the Zoning Adjustments Board, city residents cited traffic, parking and pedestrian safety as reasons for their opposition.

    “(The Berkeley Honda project) is inappropriate for this location,” wrote Jane Kitchel, a Berkeley resident, in an email to Allen in March 2015. “It is not a neighborhood-serving business.”

    City Council, however, believed that the 1990s alterations disqualified the building from being a structure of merit and voted in favor of the appeal against the designation, said Sally Zarnowitz, secretary of the commission.

    As Laurie Capitelli is a key member of the City Council, I suspect that bad old “Crookitelli” was one of those who EAGERLY voted in favor of the appeal against the designation.

    So Crookitelli is one of those who is basically IGNORING neighborhood residents’ opinions, and yet is eagerly running for Mayor of Berkeley in the November Election.
    Got it.

    • Willliam Wallace

      Berkeley City is owned and run by the Chamber of Commerce through their sock puppets. The idea that the citizens have any voice is refuted by every City Council position (except for a few token, meaningless announcements for the press).

  • justiceplease

    This would never have happened in North Berkeley. In North Berkeley historic assets are matters of civic pride, and landmarking would be a no-brainer.

    The quibbling over this building, which people in South Berkeley love and want to protect against *future* remodeling damaging only occurred because the City wants to put a Honda dealership there. This is an inappropriate location apart from the question of whether the City is pushing car dealerships into the poor South neighborhood while the taxes generated will chiefly benefit the wealthy.

    Honda itself originally acknowledged that the building was a community asset that should be protected. Now they want to cut a hole in the facade for their metal garage door. The bigger concern is that property is so valuable now that Honda may just want to resell it and cut their losses: in Berkeley. And they will get more money if they can sell the property without any Structure of Merit considerations getting in the way of some mega building project. See Harold Way for an example of what happens once the City starts declaring only some parts of the building are actually landmarked.

    In the end however, how the neighbors feel about Honda and the City’s deal with Honda shouldn’t have mattered. The experts on the Landmarks Preservation Committee designated the building a Structure of Merit. The factors that went into that decision have nothing to do with the Honda dealership. Either a building is worth protecting or it isn’t.

    Mayor Bates was utterly disingenuous when he declared he saw “nothing special” about the building. Other Council Members were also disingenous about CEQA already protecting the building. This building is near the Ashby BART, so it’s the target of developer efforts to implement a streamlined CEQA and eliminate zoning requirements all together. The Mayor has *already* put this plan out, smuggling a raft of favors for market rate developers behind a “solution” to the housing problem.

    This is a shining example of City discrimination against and disparate treatment of “diverse” neighborhoods. I hope someone will sue and put an end to the City’s abuse of South Berkeley once and for all.

    • Thomas Ferrell

      Thanks for the words of support, but Honda doesn’t own the building. They are leasing it from Glenn Yasuda, owner of the Berkeley Bowl.

      • justiceplease

        Thank you for raising awareness of the need to preserve this building. I’m amazed the issue didn’t come up when the owner of the Berkeley Bowl did the previous remodeling that ruined its landmark status. Some people made a big deal of this, but who knows what has changed in the law or community involvement since that time?

        Whether they own the building or not, Honda did declare an intention to remodel it and cut a big hole in the front. I also agree that there might be a “long game” going on here to keep the building available for future developers. As mentioned in my comment, it’s in the Priority Development Area around Ashby BART.

        • alex

          Which, if it didn’t displace a business, would be a Good Idea because we need more housing constructed right near BART stations. Duh !

          • justiceplease

            BART is currently over-capacity – DUH!

            The Transportation Commission slipped up in sharing that their process was to add transportation hubs were housing was “planned” – i.e. the Priority Development Areas that mainly affect the poorest neighborhoods of Berkeley, and that are now besieged by speculators.

            Better policy would have been to buff up transportation, spread the “hubs” throughout the city to serve low income housing throughout the city.

            The failure to develop North Berkeley BART gives the lie to every “transit-oriented” argument that’s made. Developers are just using whatever arguments work so they can make they can profiteer off of an inflated housing market. If City policy is for the people who live here, then we should only incentivize housing people can afford.

    • dwss5

      justiceplease wrote:
      “This is an inappropriate location apart from the question of whether the City is pushing car dealerships into the poor South neighborhood while the taxes generated will chiefly benefit the wealthy.”

      That’s right, and we WILL expect the two-pronged displacement attacks of both:
      1) increasing rent increases and evictions by greedy landlord$ in that very “poor South neighborhood”, and
      2) ENORMOUS Market-Rate Development railroaded thru the City Council

      Just watch and see this unroll, now that one more dealer$hip is in the area to spoil the neighborhood!

    • alex

      No. This is a shining example of the City Council overturning a typical misuse of landmarking status to prevent a disliked zoning use. Which is good. But what it also shows is how easy it is to misuse the landmarking process to throw a wrench in the development process. Watching the city council meeting on March 15 was a case study of NIMBYism in action. You had pro-landmarking NIMBY on one side and the union/employees of the dealership on the other. Then when the public comment ended, Anderson went on what I thought was going to be his usual tirade to nowhere but instead he pulls up at the last minute and delivers a succinct smackdown to all parties (including the employees — bringing up a little history when they weren’t on the side of the business owner). And, side note, Mayor Bates accidentally addressed him as council member Moore ! Berkeley really was on display last week, and not in a good way.

      Then we finally had a couple of architects who showed exactly how LPC had erred, in that they had basically landmarked the new building (built in the 1990s) instead of the original building which was really gone. That was actually pretty fascinating, if you had the patience to get to that point.

      But what nobody really talked about is how this kind of abuse of the process is gumming up the entire city’s ability to get anything related to development done. If every development has to go to city council, or a lawsuit (eg. Harold Way), or fend of spurious landmarking to get started, it increases the cost of development, which drives up rents, which delays new housing, etc. So if you think there’s a housing crisis in Berkeley you should be concerned at how long it takes for any project to move forward, whether commercial or residential.

      Either you want to preserve some antiquated vision of Berkeley and accept gentrifying housing cost increases as the price you pay for it, or you like development of new buildings. The capitalist economy of the rest of the Bay Area isn’t going to politely stay out of Berkeley while we try to balance our priorities…

      • justiceplease

        This is a generation that cares nothing about history, and developers are willing to exploit that to the max. The difference between North and South Berkeley is people in North Berkeley would have been able to stop this give-away to developers.

        While we are arguing about whether the people on South Berkeley are NIMBYs for trying to protect a building they love, no one is asking what kind of NIMBYism is involved in the neighborhoods that weren’t even considered for the auto dealership move.

        The fact that the owner of the Berkeley Bowl got away with modifying the building in the first place should also be at issue. Just because he got away with it doesn’t mean he should profit for it now. The owners of the Berkeley Bowl donated to Bates’s campaign for Mayor, and now they are being paid back with the removal of any strings attached to pursuing market rate development of the property.

        The union members were total disingenuous considering how many of those community members, including myself, supported their strike. They could easily do those same jobs and maintain their union in another more suitable spot.

        Also, today I heard about the ribbon-breaking on repairs of Aquatic Park. I wonder what you would say to the fact that Transfer Tax money that was originally designated to the housing trust fund was stolen for public repairs like those, rather than the City doing maintenance out of the General Fund or getting popular support of a City bond. That’s money intended for development and housing, yet somehow I bet you’re not so outraged over that.

        There is a new generation who thinks that Berkeley who could care less if Berkeley was turned into a generic strip mall, as long as they can press their theory of trickle-down housing – a theory that’s already been proven not to work in San Francisco, before you add the continuous demand of students from an expanding university into the mix. There are some groups even being paid taxpayer money to forward this agenda (Livable Berkeley) or receiving backing from the libertarians of Silicon Valley (SF BARF). If you’re affiliated with either of those groups, shame on you for wrecking the nice things of our civilization just so you can get some money.

        • alex

          Nope. I’m someone who grew up here, lives here, raises kids here, and would welcome streamlining development in North Berkeley as well. Some of us who grew up here figured out how to see with our eyes and think for ourselves (Berkeley High does teach a few things), and we get it that this city needs more housing. Luxury market rate housing, or whatever can be built, because it all fills a need and helps reduce the pressure on more affordable housing.

          I may be part of a new generation, but I am from this town.

          • justiceplease

            There’s plenty of market rate housing available now, and it’s not relieving a whit of pressure because your premise that wealthy people will take these units and stop competing for lower priced ones is fault.

            No matter where you grew up, your attitudes are redolent of the suck-up-to-the-rich generation.

      • Thomas Ferrell

        Alex, the landmarking application did not throw a wrench in Honda’s plans, and was not misused. It’s true that many of the neighborhood people who support landmarking are opposed to Honda occupying that space. But the landmarking application was not part of their effort. Landmarking may very well have been inconvenient to unannounced *future* plans for development that have nothing to do with Honda, but the LPC made clear that it would not have derailed Honda. For whatever reason, neither Honda & its workers, nor the city council accepted this. I tend to suspect that Honda & its workers are pawns in this development game. After all, they were forced out of their old location by the Parker Place development, not by the neighborhood. The neighbors would be happy to have them where they were, or near where they were—on a stretch of Shattuck that can support the repair shop traffic. But not on the 2-lane part of Shattuck where the intersections already have failing traffic grades, and where additional traffic will cause predictable cascading effects. [BTW, “a couple of architects” = 1) the architect hired for the Berkeley Bowl Honda remodel (Trachtenberg), and 2) the evaluation architect being paid to deliver for Honda (Hulbert). Except for them, every knowledgeable preservationist who commented on this, including architects, were in favor of landmarking. The permitting process is what it is. The neighbors and the developers both have to live with it. The neighbors did so in good faith, following the process established by city ordinance. The developers lobbied elected officials behind scenes: almost the entire city council admitted having meetings or phone discussions with Honda or its reps prior to the council meeting.

    • Come on Now

      FYI….Honda doesn’t own the building. They are not buying the building. They are leasing the building from the Yasuda’s, whom ARE the owners of the building. So there is no way that “HONDA” would be able to sell the buiding to gain anything! So get your facts right before you say something.

      • justiceplease

        Who says the Yasudas won’t sell it?