Controversy Arises Over Site Development





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A heated debate between local developers and residents has delayed construction of proposed additions to a Southside seminary.

Developers for the American Baptist Seminary of the West said they plan to enhance the seminary's current facilities with a multistory building at 2514 Benvenue Ave.

The building is expected to house seven offices, six classrooms and 20 housing units. The cost of construction is estimated at $10 million.

Members of the Benvenue Residents Association, a local community group, said they worry there will be more traffic on what they called the "most dense, most overburdened street in the whole of Berkeley" and a reduction in parking availability in the area.

But Gary Black, UC Berkeley associate professor of architecture and president of the architecture firm hired for the project, said the proposed project would improve the parking situation in the area by creating 20 to 25 new spaces.

Some Berkeley residents also said they opposed the planned construction because the houses situated on the proposed construction site, which would be demolished, have historical value. One of the houses was built more than 100 years ago, association members said.

Although association members said the proposed building would damage the "integrity" of the neighborhood, Black said the building would be an "oasis in the area" among "1960s piles of junk" apartment housing.

"This extends the beauty along Benvenue in its architecture, in its material and the residents," Black said. "This preserves the courtyard feeling."

He added the seminary's courtyard would remain open for the community's use after construction.

The Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board approved the construction in June with a 5-4 decision.

The association appealed the zoning board's decision to the City Council, which may consider the appeal as early as Dec. 10.

"We feel the planning department (has) acted as an advocate for the developer," said Benvenue Residents Association President Sharon Hudson on the board's decision.

Developers said the association tied up the planning process with their appeal to the City Council, after having failed in other efforts to stop the addition to the seminary.

Council members are considering both the development project and the appeal from Berkeley residents opposed to the construction.

Some council members said they are concerned with the possibility of UC Berkeley buying or renting the building space.

"I have historically been concerned with the university growth into the Southside," said Councilmember Betty Olds. "I'll be taking a very close look at it how it will impact the neighborhood and how it reflects the university creep."

Members of the association echoed the concern, citing the fact that the university currently rents three of the seminary's 11 buildings on Southside.

Black said the new building will be solely used by the Graduate Theological Union and the seminary.

The seminary, a member of the Graduate Theological Union, also houses a number of UC Berkeley programs including freshman extension courses.

Opponents of the plan said they do not expect the council decision to serve as the final judgment in this controversy. Members of the Benvenue Residents Association said they plan to file a lawsuit if the City Council approves development.

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