A city committee unanimously motioned to continue refining design and landscaping plans for a proposed student housing complex on Durant Avenue at a meeting Thursday.
The five-story, 56-unit apartment complex would replace an abandoned 18-unit apartment building located at 2631 Durant Ave. between the Berkeley Art Museum and the Theta Delta Chi fraternity house.
The building’s last tenants left in May and did not continue renting because the foundation engineer said it was not seismically safe, according to Cliff Orloff, managing partner of developer OPHCA LLC. There was also $1 million worth of termite damage when Orloff acquired the building, he said.
At the meeting, Orloff voiced concerns about squatters inhabiting the current building. According to Orloff, police have visited the site multiple times and found candles, syringes and feces within the building.
The Design Review Committee of the Zoning Adjustments Board had reservations about the building’s design. It chose to continue resolving issues in a preliminary review stage before approving the design and sending it to the board, which can grant use permits.
“Part of me wants to approve it … But the other part of me, as an architect, is very concerned,” said Bob Allen, a member of the committee.
Orloff and his wife, who worked on landscaping for the proposed building, presented updated plans with certain details and measurements as per the committee’s request from a previous meeting Sept. 18. This will be the building’s third major redesign, according to Orloff, who began working on the project in March of last year, when he filed an application for a use permit.
Orloff has been involved with real estate in Berkeley, Sacramento and Indianapolis, but he stopped investing in Berkeley because he said it “got too difficult to deal with the city.” He bought the Durant Avenue property because of its prime location, hoping to build a modernized complex.
The city did not initially approve his request and said the space was a landmark site. The city eventually concurred that the building did not have landmark status, and Orloff is now working on a demolition permit.
Several committee members delivered critical comments on the proposed building’s fundamental design. The protruding sections of the building’s exterior would not create a pleasant facade, Allen said. Committee member Burton Edwards described the progress on design plans as “being pecked at by chickens, with only little improvements.”
But after hearing positive feedback from Jim Goring, chair of the committee, at previous meetings, Orloff said he was under the impression that the committee was satisfied with the fundamental design. He said the meeting left him feeling “annoyed and frustrated.”
“We don’t know where to go with this,” Orloff said to the committee.
The committee ultimately decided that Orloff should deal with the squatters, obtain the demolishment permit and return to the committee for further design resolution, said Anne Burns, secretary of the committee.
“This building will be a building you’ll be proud of when it’s done,” Orloff told the committee.
Also at the meeting, the committee approved two final designs — one for a parking structure on Heinz Avenue and the other for a six-story mixed-use building on Dwight Way.