City Council to Issue Decision on Controversial Southside Laundromat in April

Photo: A proposal to construct a laundromat in the Southside Lofts & Retail building on Telegraph Avenue has been met with opposition from residents, who cite concerns about noise, safety and parking problems.
Simone Anne Lang/Photo
A proposal to construct a laundromat in the Southside Lofts & Retail building on Telegraph Avenue has been met with opposition from residents, who cite concerns about noise, safety and parking problems.

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The ongoing controversy surrounding the installation of a South Berkeley laundromat could be resolved April 20, when Berkeley City Council members are expected to issue a final decision.

The council will consider approving or denying the permit application to allow PWS, Inc. to build a laundromat in the Southside Lofts & Retail building-located at 3095 Telegraph Ave.-after nearly a year of contention between residents, city officials and PWS.

The permit was previously denied Jan. 28 by the city's Zoning Adjustment Board. The city manager's office requested that the decision be considered by the City Council March 23.

Several nearby residents have said the laundromat would pose a variety of noise, safety and parking problems to the neighbors and residents of the building.

At the March 23 meeting, planning department staff presented findings to the council that sought to address the residents' concerns. But many residents in attendance said the findings were insubstantial and conflicted with their own evidence.

Marcy McGaugh, the coordinator of public safety and crime prevention for the Bateman Neighborhood Association, said the council had to ask numerous basic questions regarding the amount of parking and specific zoning regulations that city staff had not included in their report.

Councilmember Kriss Worthington said he had expected city staff to also provide findings in support of denying the permit at the meeting. Because of this, the council directed staff to return April 20 with those findings.

"If we had the language for both in front of us, we could have decided one way or another­," Worthington said. "Now we have to torture both sides for another month."

But Dan Marks, director of planning and development for the city of Berkeley, said city staff was looking for comments from the council that could enhance the resolution to reflect the council's concerns, adding that the city staff adequately did their job.

"The resolution was fine if they wanted to approve it," he said.

The zoning board initially approved the project more than a year after the permit application was submitted November 2008, but later suspended the permit after it was discovered that developer Sam Sorokin-who owns the space-incorrectly stated that a different laundromat had previously inhabited it.

Planning department officials hoped to restart the application process by revoking the permit that would have allowed the laundromat to move in to the facility.

But by then, work had already begun on the space, and department officials feared that the move could engender a lawsuit against the city.

"It started out badly, that's clear," Marks said. "(It) created a very difficult and awkward situation for everybody."

Many residents said the discrepancy between the city and resident findings were due to the planning department's concerns over potential litigation, which they said has contributed to a perceived bias towards approving the laundromat.

"City planning staff seems to have been continually supportive of PWS Laundry-how can they be neutral when PWS is threatening to sue the city?" McGaugh said.

Bob McTavish, PWS director of development for Northern California, said he had no comment on the March 23 hearing, adding that the whole issue was "clear and simple."

"It's a simple case of 'not in my backyard,'" he said.

But Southside Lofts resident Mahershalalhashbaz Ali, who lives directly above where the proposed laundromat would be installed, said he appreciated the "positive momentum" from the city council.

"I know this is a unique situation, because the city has a lawsuit hanging over its head, but I really do think the city council is able to fully grasp our concerns," he said. "They are now aware of insufficient parking, the nuisance issues and the fact that this project is just not the right fit for this building."


Contact Leah Moskovic at [email protected]

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