56-unit student housing complex may be coming to Durant Avenue

Michael Drummond/Senior Staff
A five-story, 56-unit apartment for student housing may replace this 18-unit apartment.

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The Design Review Committee of the Zoning Adjustments Board raised concerns about the intended design and landscaping of a proposed student-housing complex on Durant Avenue at a meeting Thursday.

The proposed building is a five-story, 56-unit apartment complex for students at 2631 Durant Ave., which will replace the 18-unit apartment building between the Berkeley Art Museum and the Theta Xi fraternity house.

Committee members questioned the building’s color and accessibility for disabled individuals, according to Cliff Orloff, managing partner of developer OPHCA LLC, which proposed the building.

John McBride, president of the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, said the significance of the adjacent art museum may have an impact on the new building’s design.

“One of our great concerns is that when a major building has a new building put next to it, there should be some respect for what is there,” McBride said.

Orloff said when he first applied to build the apartment complex, he spent four months convincing the city that the existing structure should not be given landmark status to protect it from being altered or destroyed. According to Orloff, the building is currently vacant and “not habitable.”

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Cliff Orloff/Courtesy

Orloff said it will take longer to obtain permits for the building than to construct it, because it will take 12 to 18 months to build the building after it receives permits.

“The problem here is with the city,” Orloff said. “(It is) the reason student rents are so high.”

Orloff said Councilmember Kriss Worthington, whose district would include the proposed building, has been “very discouraging” in the process of obtaining permits for the building and has declined to meet with Orloff about the plan several times.

Worthington, however, said one of his top priorities is pushing for more student housing.

“I have been the strongest proponent of increasing housing in the south side and pushing very hard to get the Southside plan to apply more housing,” Worthington said.

Sean Barry, a candidate for District 7 in the upcoming election, said he supports student-housing projects near campus. Barry said that there are “lengthy delays” in the permitting process due to backlogs in city commissions and that the process should be sped up.

“We need to have a permitting review process that is predictable to builders,” Barry said. “It’s a good thing that, in Berkeley, we have opportunity for the neighborhood to weigh in about aesthetic aspects and contribute to the community, but we have to recognize that the processes must resolve.”

If approved, the building will join a number of new student-housing complexes, such as the Berkeley Met near the Berkeley City Club.

The Design Review Committee will meet again Sept. 18.

Contact Sophie Mattson at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @MattsonSophie.