Berkeley City Council held a special meeting Thursday evening to consider two appeals on land use decisions made by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, or LPC, and the Zoning Adjustments Board, or ZAB.
Berkeley residents appealed to the LPC’s denial of the William H. and Esther L. Payson House as a city recognized landmark to prevent demolition and further development of the site. Residents pleaded with the City Council to affirm their appeal, citing the house’s historic value and William Payson’s role in the city’s First Unitarian Church.
“Payson was a driving force in the founding of the First Unitarian Church in Berkeley,” said Deborah Kropp, the leading appellant representing 70 Berkeley residents, during the meeting. “Both the Maybeck and the Payson houses have been neglected at some point, the city has designated many homes like these to be preserved.”
In opposition to the appeal, historic architect Mark Hulbert disputed the claim that the Payson House was the oldest building in the area, adding that there are “a number of older houses.”
Hulbert also noted that Payson was not a core founding member of the church and cited a national registry that did not include Payson in a list of the church’s prominent leaders and founders.
“Basically, there’s a lot that are exactly like it (the Payson House),” Hulbert said during the meeting. “Not unique or one of a kind, it is the least of its kind.”
Councilmember Kate Harrison said during the meeting that while she identifies as a Unitarian, she did not see a correlation between the house and the church’s history.
After about two hours of debate and public comment, the City Council voted in favor of affirming the LPC’s decision to deny landmark status.
The other appeal that was heard focused on the ZAB’s approval of a land use permit to develop a 42-unit community living space on San Pablo Avenue. Community members made the appeal due to concerns over sanitation issues and the impact new housing could have on the neighborhood.
The lack of hot water sinks available in unit bathrooms in the living space’s design was emphasized by council members. Harrison motioned to require hot water sinks in the bathrooms, but the motion was rejected in favor of Vice Mayor Lori Droste’s motion to require soap dispensers.
City Council affirmed ZAB’s decision after the adjustment was made, with only Harrison voting against the decision.
“You are asking people to live in a place for a year where they can’t wash their hands after taking a dump,” Harrison said during the meeting. “I am outraged that this adjustment can not be made.”