Contentious 10,000-square-foot home to be built in northwest Berkeley

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After years in legal limbo, a California Court of Appeal reversed its original ruling Sept. 23, siding with the city’s controversial decision to allow a 10,000-square-foot home to be built on a hillside.

Mitchell Kapor, founder of software company Lotus Development Corporation, and his wife, Freada Kapor Klein, applied for building permits for the project in May 2009. But following the city’s approval of the permits, some Berkeley residents — including citizen group Berkeley Hillside Preservation — appealed the approval and brought the issue to Berkeley City Council.

Over the course of the next six years, legal proceedings postponed the housing project’s development.

The proposed project will result in the construction of a nearly 10,000-square-foot single-family residence — including a 10-car garage — on a steep hillside at 2707 Rose St. in northwest Berkeley.

“Neighbors welcome the project,” said Marco Cenzatti, professor in the campus departments of architecture and city and regional planning. “It’s not intrusive, so they’re happy.”

Cenzatti, who lives less than half a mile from the proposed development site, said he thinks the reaction by some Berkeley residents against the project is a “negative overreaction.”

“I notice, often, that there is a ‘BANANA’ principle,” Cenzatti said, referring to an acronym. “Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything.”

For Cenzatti, the term seems to characterize the legal battle between the homeowners and that of Berkeley Hillside Preservation.

According to court documents, Berkeley Hillside Preservation said the project was subject to a California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, provision that would require an environmental impact report, or EIR, to assess any potential risks before a building development is approved.

A state Supreme Court ruling in May, however, denied this assessment, stating that a “potentially significant environmental effect” was not enough to provoke the CEQA provision, which would only require an EIR if a development prompted “unusual circumstances.”

According to the act, developments that would necessitate an EIR would be those that would result in “traffic, noise, air quality or water quality impacts,” among others.

In light of the recent ruling by the Court of Appeals, Councilmember Susan Wengraf — whose district encompasses the home’s location — said Kapor has all necessary approved permits and is thus “good to go if he so chooses.”

According to Igor Tregub, city Zoning Adjustments Board commissioner, the permits for the development are granted for the lifetime of the project.

“It’s definitely been a long time,” Tregub said, “(but) I don’t think it’s the longest that I’ve seen something debated.”

Cenzatti said he thinks the attitude of some opponents is that “when there is something new coming in, the reaction is (that) we don’t want it.”

Kapor and representatives from the Berkeley Hillside Preservation could not be reached for comment.

After years in legal limbo, a California Court of Appeal reversed its original ruling last Wednesday, siding with the city’s controversial decision to allow a 10,000 square foot home to be built on a hillside.