Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board approves co-living complex construction

Photo of ZAB meeting
Rachel Barber/Senior Staff
In a 6-2 vote, the Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board passed a motion to approve a co-living project with amendments that require the complex to designate a larger room for the live-in manager, create a security and surveillance plan and have a manager available after-hours on an emergency basis.

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The Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board, or ZAB, approved a 42-unit co-living accommodation’s construction at 2435 San Pablo Ave. after several failed motions and disagreements among board members.

Project architect Erik Waterman described the housing complex as a place for working professionals who want to pay less rent than they would for a market-rate studio. The board approved the building to have 40 bedrooms, a ground-floor commercial space and a rooftop deck.

“The single-family home isn’t the be-all, end-all of all life,” said ZAB member Teresa Clarke during the meeting. “I’d really like to see this as a model that could work.”

Disagreements about the property and a split vote early in the night also led to a small discussion among members about the board’s overall role. After ZAB member Igor Tregub suggested continuing the discussion at a later meeting, Clarke said they shouldn’t prolong the conversation and that “we need to do our job,” referencing the fact that the board was continuing this conversation from a meeting in December.

ZAB member John Selawsky, who voted to not approve the project, said at the meeting that the board’s job is not to approve projects without critiquing them.

“I’m here to be critical until I know that they are going to work,” Selawsky said during the meeting. “That’s my job, OK?”

In a 6-2 vote, the board passed a motion to approve the project with amendments that require the complex to designate a larger room for the live-in manager, create a security and surveillance plan and have a manager available after-hours on an emergency basis. ZAB members Selawsky and Patrick Sheahan voted “no” on the motion.

During public comment, several Berkeley residents brought up issues that board members had with the project. Berkeley resident Una Ingram shared the concern that the complex will not contribute to the city’s affordable housing trust fund. Another resident, Kelly Hammargren, was concerned for the population the complex would serve.

“Who would actually stay here?” Hammargren asked during the meeting. “Life has really changed with COVID, and many people are working remotely. … You don’t have to live in a 200-square-foot room on San Pablo. You could really have something more pleasant than this.”

Though ZAB approved the project, it is appealable to Berkeley City Council, an action that ZAB members Shoshana O’Keefe and Tregub said at the meeting they expect will happen. Tregub added that he feels the City Council will have “a lot more discretion” to address the “more philosophical issues” that were raised regarding the community that the complex may cultivate.

Earlier in the night, the board also approved the construction of a multiuse building at 2795 San Pablo Ave. that will include five housing units and a street-level commercial space. The project’s applicant, Hamid Tehrani, said at the meeting that the building will fit in with the city’s “big plan” for San Pablo Avenue to make it more pedestrian-friendly.

The board also approved a motion to move the discussion about a project at 600 Addison St. to its next meeting Sept. 10.

Contact Rachel Barber at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @rachelbarber_.

Correction(s):
Due to misinformation from a source, a previous version of this article incorrectly identified Erik Waterman as the property owner. In fact, Waterman is the project’s architect.