City Approval of House Plans Incites Resident Opposition

Photo: The current house at 2707 Rose St. is set to be replaced by the home of software mogul Mitch Kapor, but 34 residents are appealing the city's decision to approve the construction.
Michael Kang/Photo
The current house at 2707 Rose St. is set to be replaced by the home of software mogul Mitch Kapor, but 34 residents are appealing the city's decision to approve the construction.

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Construction of the house for a prominent software mogul in North Berkeley has come under fire from nearby residents, who complain that the house is too large and allege that the city's approval of the project was unfairly expedited at the expense of their input.

At its Jan. 28 meeting, the city's Zoning Adjustment Board voted 8-0 to approve the construction of a nearly 10,000-square-foot residence for Mitch Kapor, founder of Lotus Development Corporation and an adjunct professor of information at UC Berkeley.

But 34 residents signed an appeal issued Friday to the Berkeley City Council to overturn the decision, suggesting that approval of the project raised "significant questions regarding transparency and objectivity."

The construction site, located at 2707 Rose St., is situated in a neighborhood where homes are on average three times smaller than Kapor's would be, according to Berkeley resident and architect Gary Parsons.

However, not all residents in the neighborhood oppose the project.

Before its approval in January, the application was submitted to the board in May 2009 following a five-month consultation with the adjoining neighbors, said architect Marcy Wong, partner of Marcy Wong & Donn Logan Architects, which designed the residence.

"We ... have been in favor of this plan since the beginning," said Paul Opsvig, an immediate neighbor to the residence. "We keenly regret the appeal."

But Susan Fadley, another nearby resident, said the approval was unusually expedited for a city known for its rigorous permit application process.

"I hate to think that this is really political, but I think it is," she said. "(Kapor) would bring huge revenues to a city that's scrambling for money."

Kapor said in an e-mail that a substantial part of the home would be used to raise funds for community and campus groups, including scholarship programs for low-income and underrepresented students enrolled at UC Berkeley.

Some residents, including Parsons, said the board's decision not to at least postpone consideration of the project was unusual given the public opposition, which included six residents present at the meeting and nearly 30 letters submitted to board members.

"Under those circumstances, it's really, really abnormal for the board to say, 'Your letters don't matter, your public testimony doesn't matter, we're approving it anyway,'" Parsons said.

In those letters, many residents took issue with the home's size relative to other homes in the neighborhood.

"(It) looks like a Kmart," said Berkeley resident Cliff Magnes in an e-mail sent Jan. 27 to the city. "This is the most inappropriate building for this neighborhood that I could possibly imagine."

The appeal submitted to the City Council cited "significant omissions, inaccuracies and oversights" in the staff report regarding the construction presented to the board.

Parsons, who is also the chair of the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission, questioned the report's finding that no designated historical sites were located in the site's vicinity.

"If you narrowly define the radius, that could be true," he said. "But if you walk one minute to the southwest, there's the Greenwood Commons, where there are a number of historic sites."

Greg Powell, city staff planner and the author of the report, did not return multiple requests for comment.


Chris Carrassi is the assistant city news editor. Contact him at [email protected]

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