City of Berkeley settles lawsuit with owner of vacant Telegraph lot

Brian Ly/Staff
The Berkeley City Council settled a lawsuit with Ken Sarachan, owner of the empty lot at Telegraph and Haste, waiving $641,000 in hopes of beginning construction on the site.

The city of Berkeley settled a lawsuit Wednesday with the owner of a Telegraph Avenue property that has sat vacant for more than 20 years in hopes of construction soon beginning at the site.

In a closed session, Berkeley City Council approved a settlement, dropping the city’s lawsuit against property owner Ken Sarachan. The lawsuit had sought to foreclose on a longstanding lien against the property at the corner of Haste Street and Telegraph.

Settlement terms stipulate that if steps toward construction are taken in the next several weeks, the city will waive the nearly $641,000 owed to it in lien and nuisance abatement charges and forgo selling the space in an auction. In return, Sarachan must adhere to specified deadlines for the development of the 2501 Haste St. property.

The city initially recorded liens against the property after incurring costs to demolish remains from the 1986 Berkeley Inn fire. Upon acquiring the property in 1994, Sarachan assumed responsibility for the liens.

Sarachan could not be reached for comment.

Sarachan has 45 days to move his construction proposal forward through the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board, according to city spokesperson Matthai Chakko. If he fails to comply, the city can still collect the amount owed and force Sarachan to forfeit the deed of trust on the property.

“Getting a check would be nice, but getting something built would be better,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who represents the district that includes the empty lot. Worthington referred to the area as the “single worst-blighted spot” in his district.

“Not a week would go by without a complaint — some about rats, trash or noise,” Worthington said, adding that addressing each nuisance has cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars for more than 20 years.

In addition to permit deadlines placed on Sarachan, the extended parts of the settlement would guarantee the new building will provide affordable housing for the community and a public restroom that will either be leased to the city or operated by the owner, Worthington said.

In April 2012, Sarachan contacted an architect, Kirk Peterson, about drawing up plans for an Italian hill-town-inspired development called “La Fortaleza” on the property. Peterson said Sarachan first reached out to him 15 years ago with a preliminary idea for the space.

“This will be the authoritative building,” Peterson said of the design, which incorporates elements from Moorish architecture and Tibetan forts.  “It will look like it got there first, in contrast to the current lot of buildings — like a cliff with geological formations.”

The six-story design has both a courtyard for commercial use and five residential floors of 79 one- and two-bedroom apartments.

“It’s a big hole in the urban fabric,” Peterson said of the lot’s empty state. “What we designed would provide housing, be beautiful and interesting and give Telegraph character.”

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