City Council conducts hearing on zoning board appeal, approves free showers

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Berkeley City Council conducted a public hearing for a Zoning Adjustments Board, or ZAB, appeal and approved free showers for the homeless and a budget referral to increase safety at San Pablo Park at Tuesday’s regular meeting.

In a seven-to-two decision, the ZAB is appealing construction on 3000 Shattuck Ave., where developer Rhoades Planning Group wants to demolish a gas station to build a five-story, mixed-use housing structure. Developer Mark Rhoades, however, said many of ZAB’s findings do not have merit.

“The ZAB was dissatisfied with the draft management plan presented by the applicant team,” said ZAB chair Igor Tregub. “The ZAB also considered public testimony regarding the lack of on-site affordable units and the height, bulk and density of the project.”

The project has been in the works for three years and received a recommendation by the ZAB-appointed Design Review Committee, according to Rhoades. The project is three blocks away from the Ashby BART station, provides car-free housing and ample bicycle housing, he added.

Councilmember Sophie Hahn said at the meeting that there are “ample grounds” to support ZAB’s denial of the project. The housing project would not conform to seven out of 12 development standards based on Rhoades’ exemptions requests, including asking to extend the 36-foot maximum building height regulation by 28 feet, Hahn added.

“Why do we have a ZAB if we don’t honor what they decide? Why do we have commissions if we’re not going to take action?” said Councilmember Cheryl Davila at the meeting. “I think it’s important we listen to the experts — we have to honor what they say.”

The developer is also asking to be allowed five stories instead of the maximum three and a lot coverage of 82 percent instead of the 40 percent standard, among other exemptions, according to Hahn.

Councilmember Kate Harrison said at the meeting that she is more concerned about the affordability of the units inside the development rather than the project’s height, density or loading zone. Councilmember Ben Bartlett, in addition, said City Council has a duty to require affordable units on-site.

“I am really proud to be able to say that in my 21 years of working with this community, that I’ve got to be a part … of turning auto-oriented uses, gas stations in particular, into houses for people,” Rhoades said at the meeting.

The public hearing for the appeal will be continued at City Council’s Nov. 27 meeting.

Council members also approved a budget referral to increase safety at San Pablo Park, an item Davila proposed after a shooting at San Pablo Park that left three people injured in August.

Items to increase safety within the recommendation include traffic safety assessments of streets around the park, extending Frances Albrier Community Center’s hours of operation and providing active shooter drills to daycare providers and other staff operating at the park.

Davila also introduced an item that would offer free showers for the homeless, which was unanimously approved. Lava Mae, an organization that provides important services for homeless individuals, would bring showers twice a week to two consistent locations for an eight-week pilot beginning January 2019.

The only cost that the city may end up paying is $2,000 in water fees, but Lava Mae would incur the cost of providing showers, towels and toiletries, according to Davila.

“It’s just a great opportunity to provide showers to our unhoused community,” Davila said. “When I talk to unhoused people, they are so desperately in need of showers — they would be happy to have a shower program.”

Alyssa Bernardino is the lead city government reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @alybernardino.