City Council Allows Professor to Build Home

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Putting a tentative end to a heated debate between neighbors over a proposed North Berkeley residence, the Berkeley City Council voted 6-2 Tuesday to green-light construction for software developer and UC Berkeley adjunct professor Mitch Kapor.

Controversy has dogged the project since the city's Zoning Adjustments Board unanimously approved it in January despite public outcry from 28 neighborhood residents who claimed in letters sent to city officials that the size and look of the home would threaten the character of the neighborhood.

But residents who live directly adjacent to the site point to an aging structure currently residing on the property, which they call an eyesore, in expressing their support for the project.

"We have to evaluate the project based on its detriment," said Councilmember Linda Maio at the meeting. "When you have immediate neighbors not just being quiet, but coming and supporting heartily, we don't have any other avenue."

The sheer size of the nearly 10,000-square-foot proposed home, which includes an estimated 3,300-square-foot, 10-car parking garage, has been a source of concern for several neighbors. But nearby residents have also said the garage will alleviate parking congestion on the narrow street.

"The house seems to have gotten larger due to trying to accommodate the immediate neighbors," said Councilmember Gordon Wozniak. "(The size) is not a result of any attempt of the owners to just build a large house."

Still, Councilmembers Jesse Arreguin and Kriss Worthington said the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission was not given sufficient notice to determine whether the existing home on the property is of historic value.

But some residents scoffed at the suggestion, claiming that the property has been abandoned for years. Councilmember Susan Wengraf, who said she lives about 850 feet from the site, added that the property "has become quite a blight in the neighborhood."

Though the appeal process is over, the project is not yet shovel-ready. Appellants can still petition the city to request an Environmental Impact Report (EIR), which could shift the dispute to the legal system, according to Lawrence Karp, a geotechnical engineer who was present at the meeting.

The Zoning Adjustments Board in January exempted the proposed residence from an EIR by classifying it as a single family home. Susan Brandt-Hawley, an attorney for the appellants, said the home was "not a standard single family home" and described the exemption from an environmental impact report as "illegal" in an e-mail.

Brandt-Hawley said the potential environmental impacts included excavations for a foundation on steep slopes, creek impacts and the removal of trees.

"Since there is a dispute among experts, both on the geotechnical issues and the historic resource issues, in particular, an EIR is required," Brandt-Hawley said in an e-mail.


Contact Daniel Means at [email protected]

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