On January 28, Berkeley’s Zoning Adjustments Board approved a plan submitted on behalf of Mitchell Kapor to build a new home at 2707 Rose Street (model pictured left). The approval is being appealed.

Berkeleyside first drew attention to this issue on January 25. We published an explanation of the thinking behind the appeal, written by architect Gary Parsons, here.The original application can be viewed here and drawings associated with the application can be seen here. The full appeal can be viewed here. The zoning board is due to hear the appeal on April 27th.

A group of immediate and adjacent neighbors to the property at 2707 Rose Street has written a letter expressing its “strong support” for the proposed project. We publish it today. Following the letter is a letter written by architect Marcy Wong whose firm, Marcy Wong Donn Logan Architects, created the designs for the proposed new home. At the request of the signatories to the letter below, Wong has responded to specific assertions made in the appeal to show, in her words, that they are erroneous.

March 10, 2010

Re: 2707 Rose Street

Dear Friends and Neighbors

We are a group of four families who are all the immediately adjacent neighbors to the property at 2707 Rose Street, where a new house is proposed to be built. The purpose of this letter is to let the neighborhood know of our strong support for the proposed project, and the reasons for it. We are communicating with you, the larger neighborhood, because we are concerned about the unity of the neighborhood and harmony among its residents, and believe that this project deserves to be supported.

A year ago we all received a letter from Mitch Kapor and Freada Kapor Klein, the new property owners, asking if they could introduce themselves and describe their plans to build a house immediately adjacent to us, on Rose St. We met them, and later with their architects to review their design. We informed them of long standing problems with the property, and gave our own suggestions about what was needed to be done to resolve these issues while maintaining our own privacy. Mitch and Freada were exceptionally collaborative, responsive and sensitive to our concerns and issues.

Over a month ago, their initial proposal was approved by Berkeley’s Zoning Adjustment Board (ZAB) (7 for, 1 abstention, 1 absent), a necessary step for all new house construction. However, an appeal against the ZAB approval was then filed, and signed by people who live beyond our immediate street. The appeal raises concerns both about the project and the City’s process. From what we see, the eight month City Zoning process, preceded by the five months of working with the neighbors, was neither short nor deficient but rather, complete and proper. The project is completely in keeping with the standards of the City Zoning Ordinance, blocks no protected views and poses no other detriments. In fact it provides amenities and improvements valuable to the neighborhood, such as the extensive landscaping, a turn-around on Rose Street, and ample off street parking.

A city council meeting will take place on April 27, at which the parties pro and con will each have seven minutes to present their cases. The Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board based its decisions on a set of issues within their purview under the Zoning Ordinance including the use of property, the height of buildings, the setbacks of buildings, the percentage of lot coverage, the lot area requirements, and the parking requirements. Their approval was based on the design’s meeting the criteria the ZAB uses for these issues. They do not have jurisdiction over questions of aesthetics, seismic engineering, or other building and life safety issues that are regularly addressed during the building permitting phase. The appeal of their decision concerns several of these latter issues, even though they fall outside the purview of the ZAB. The appeal also cites some issues with the procedures and practices of the City of Berkeley. Per our request, the architects have prepared a summary response to the assertions in the appeal and we have attached this letter to provide a more complete discussion of the issues brought up by the appeal [See below.] We hope that this explanation clears up some of the questions people may have.

We assume that we all have some areas of agreement like the willingness to welcome new neighbors and the interest in improving a blighted property. We feel that the Kapor Kleins would be very desirable neighbors. The project is designed to minimize its impact by providing underground parking for guests, by setting the house well back from its neighbors, and by making the house colored to blend in with surrounding vegetation.

Moreover the Kapor Kleins, in deference to their neighbors, were willing to invest in solutions to long-standing problems on the cul-de-sac street which has no turn around and no legal street parking. All of us have been long distressed by the hazardous, dilapidated existing house and lot in the neighborhood – a problem that we want dealt with as soon as possible. All of us would prefer not to have an intensive development of several houses put on the lot, which would be a developer’s likely alternative to having a single house.

Joining together our support and hopefully your support of this project will go a long way toward healing the recent divisiveness in the neighborhood, which we think is the result of confusion and unwarranted fears about the project. We would be happy to talk to any of you about the project. Our contact information is below. We are planning to appear at the April 27th meeting in support of this project, and hope that some of you will, also.

Please contact any of us to let us know of your thoughts and willingness to openly support the project.

Paul Opsvig
2637 Rose St., Berkeley 94708
510-845 1842
spopsvig@pacbell.net

Susan Opsvig
2637 Rose St., Berkeley 94708
510-845 1842
spopsvig@pacbell.net

Roger Carr
510-486 0481
2645 Shasta Rd., Berkeley 94708

Jana Olson
510- 486 0481
2645 Shasta Rd., Berkeley 94708

Alan Shriro
510- 848 6607
1371 La Loma, Berkeley 94708
drshriro@sbcglobal.net

Lorna Brown
1371 La Loma, Berkeley 94708
510- 848 6607

Miki Merin
510- 486 8198
2650 Shasta Rd., Berkeley 94708
canine.intelligence@gmail.com

………………………………………………………………..

Date: March 10, 2010
To: Paul Opsvig , Susan Opsvig, Jana Olson, Roger Carr, Miki Merin, Alan Shriro, Lorna Brown (Neighbors)
Fr: Marcy Wong (Architect)
Re: 2707 Rose Street, Appeal Response Summary

Dear Mr. and Ms. Opsvig, Ms. Olson, Mr. Carr, Ms. Merin, Mr. Shriro, and Ms. Brown,

Per your request that I provide a description of the appeal assertions, and responses explaining the  facts which demonstrate that the assertions are erroneous, here is a summary:

1. APPEAL ASSERTION: “The process of notifying the neighborhood was sorely inadequate.”
RESPONSE: The notification of the neighborhood with regard to mailed notices within the standard 300′  radius, and the posting of several bright yellow posters met if not exceeded Zoning Ordinance  requirements. Moreover the owners secured and continue to enjoy the approval of all of the immediate  neighbors.

2. APPEAL ASSERTION: “(H)ad the Planning Department’s own application requirements been followed, story  poles should have been erected…” and “The ‘H’ District’s requirement for story poles was not met.”
RESPONSE: The Planning Department’s application form indicates that the decision of whether to require  story poles is at the discretion of the staff. The standard practice has been to require story poles when  a neighbor’s protected view may be impacted by a structure. Staff is not required to mandate story poles  because someone from afar, who is clearly not impacted by the project, demands that it be done. Story  poles were not required for this project, because the project is completely lower than the elevation of  the LaLoma Avenue structure, and does not impact any protected views including those from neighbors above  and directly adjacent sides.

3. APPEAL ASSERTION: “Other improper shortcuts in public notification were apparent with regard to  landmarks. The staff failed to provide LPC with information specifying that a 1920s home was being  demolished to be replaced with a new dwelling.”
RESPONSE: The application for demolition and new structure was available to the LPC per the usual  procedure and standard practice of the Zoning Department. Applicant provided Planning staff with a six- page history of the 2707 property.

4. APPEAL ASSERTION: “To…waive such a requirement when a structure of such unprecedented size and wholly  different architectural style from the neighborhood is proposed is not only contrary to the department’s  own requirements, but especially grievous [sic].”
RESPONSE: Architectural style for single family residential structures is not a Zoning Ordinance use  permit issue. To make it an issue in this case would be to deviate from the department’s purview. The  City’s own records show that the size of the house, whose livable area is about 6,500 s.f., is far from  “unprecedented.” The lot is very large and could contain a house four times the size of the proposed  project or four houses with “granny units” in a subdivision.

5. APPEAL ASSERTION: “The report does not mention the impact of massive excavation and topographical  changes to the property.”
RESPONSE: The report does describe the excavation and cites specific numbers of cubic yards of cut and  fill, along with the slope of the site. Detailed issues about execution and engineering of excavation are  dealt with during the building permit phase rather than the zoning use permit phase. All projects on  steep hills have these issues; they are technical issues that are routinely addressed to meet life safety  standards. See item 6) below.

6. APPEAL ASSERTION: “…(N)o conditions relative to grading or excavation standards are mentioned.”
RESPONSE: The use permit that is being contested includes City of Berkeley imposed conditions that must  be met in this regard.

7. APPEAL ASSERTION: “The staff report fails to mention, and indeed denies the existence of, historic  resources in the neighborhood.”
RESPONSE: The City Ordinance defines the relevant historic resources as being “adjacent” to a subject  property. None of the adjacent properties are historic resources. The historic resources named in the  appeal are Greenwood Commons and the Hume House, which are hundreds of feet away.

8. APPEAL ASSERTION: “It is shocking that there has been no research done to see if the existing  structures on the site, due to be demolished, have any significant history attached to them…”
RESPONSE: As part of the use permit application, the existing structures were researched and a history of  the structures was submitted to the City. (See response to #3 above.)

9. APPEAL ASSERTION: “No mention of conditions related to landslide were thought to be necessary…and the  building has been exempted from the requirements of the Alquist Priolo Act…”
RESPONSE: The project is not in a landslide zone; this has been verified by a licensed geo-technical  engineer. Therefore, the project is not and never was subject to and has not been “exempted” from the  Alquist Priolo Act.

10. APPEAL ASSERTION: “Staff finds that the building is a two story wood-frame structure, despite  indications that structurally it is a three story building.”
RESPONSE: The project is a 2- story building. The drawings show 2 stories. The upper level is entirely  living area, the lower of two levels has both an subterranean garage built into the hill, as well as  living area daylighting to the north. There is no 3rd level.

11. APPEAL ASSERTION: “The building as proposed exceeds both the average height and maximum height  standards.”
RESPONSE: The project heights –both average and maximum – are at or under the City standards. Moreover,  the height of the building blocks no protected views, poses no shadow or other detriment and is not  objected to by any of the immediate neighbors.

12. APPEAL ASSERTION: “The project takes advantage of a loophole in the Zoning Ordinance’s definitions  which states that a building height is measured from “finished grade.”
RESPONSE: The appeal authors appear to be confirming that our method of calculating height is consistent  with what is prescribed in the Zoning Ordinance.

13. APPEAL ASSERTION: “The assertion that this project meets “green building goals” is highly  questionable.
RESPONSE: The project exceeds the required points under the City’s “Build-It-Green” program as it has  about twice as many points as the minimum required. The Build-It-Green program (which the City of  Berkeley has adopted for its green standards) involves a Green Point check list for single family homes.  Under this system, a home is considered green if it earns at least 50 points. This project has thus far a score of 91 points, which may ultimately be even higher as the design  develops.

14. APPEAL ASSERTION: “(T)he average size of a dwelling in the area is about 2,000 square feet, one finds  that 2707 Rose Street would be about three times that size.”
RESPONSE: The average size house in the area is well above 2,000 sq. ft. In fact, the houses immediately  surrounding the site average well over 3,000 sq. feet and in some cases exceed 4,000 sq. ft. Some of the  most cherished houses in the neighborhood are over 6,000 s.f. in area.

15. APPEAL ASSERTION: “The staff notes that dwellings to the north do not have views across the site but  neglects views toward the site.”
RESPONSE: The implication of the appeal is that houses should be invisible as one looks up at or across  hills. However, visibilities of houses across a canyon are not violations of protected views, as defined  by the City of Berkeley’s Municipal Code. Moreover, this site is one of the most hidden and tree-screened  properties in the hills. It will be less visible to its neighbors than the vast majority of houses in the  Berkeley Hills.

Tracey Taylor

Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...

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13 Comments

  1. There is no question that the existing house & 3 “garages” on the 2707 Rose St site were in decay and were magnets for vandals and derelicts for a decade or more. If that house was deemed to be so precious to those who now regard it as an structure with architectural value, where were they all these years? I am unaware of any concerted neighborhood effort to preserve it — except now that the Kapor-Klein family is proposing to resolve at least this issue.

    A further observation: Marcy Wong is a fine architect. She designed the fire house at 3000 Shasta. The new 2707 Rose project may very well eventually find its way into the Berkeley Architectural Heritage list.

  2. There is a pretty compelling point by point rebuttal of the architects’ responses to the appeal assertion on this site at https://berkeleyside-newspack.newspackstaging.com/2010/03/31/neighbors-v-neighbors-in-mitch-kapor-home-case/

    I am opposed to this project for many reasons, but I appreciate hearing from my neighbors who support this project. I too am concerned about the harmony among my neighbors, and I hope we can agree to disagree with respect and civility. Whether you are for or against this project and support the process or not, I hope we can all agree that everyone has a right to express their opinion, that we all have a right to all the information necessary (as required by law) to form an educated opinion about what is being proposed, and that the same rules apply to everyone.

    I have to say that right now, this is my main objection. While four of the six immediate households were contacted (as required by law) prior to the submittal of the plans, I didn’t even hear about this project until a week before the ZAB hearing. The ZAB simply rubber stamped it, with few questions, and a total disregard for a massive outpouring of objections from neighbors who had also just heard about it.

    Those neighbors made a simple request for more time, both to the Kapors, then to the ZAB to understand the project better, and to be given at least some of the same courtesy that the Kapors lavished on those four households who are now so fervently supporting this project.

    I think the question must be asked, if these households were so supportive, why were they so careful not to breathe a word of this to their own neighbors who are opposing this project now? Why were their own neighbors given only two weeks notice when the new owners and their architect had been so “exceptionally collaborative, responsive and sensitive to [their] concerns and issues?” The Kapors reached out to their new neighbors, but that is where the outreach ended.

    As to the appeal that was “signed by people who live beyond [their] immediate street,” that is incorrect. The appeal was signed and is supported by people who live on both Rose and Shasta (the immediate streets), as well as by other neighbors who will be negatively impacted by this project. And what does that say about the definition of a neighborhood? My neighbors and me, but not my neighbor’s neighbor? At least we can agree that the appeal raises concerns both about the project and the City’s process, but not for the same reasons.

    The neighbors above who support this project have called “the eight month City Zoning process, preceded by the five months of working with the neighbors . . .complete and proper,” but the secrecy of that support belies this statement. It is just plain disingenuous to represent this as a 13 month long public process.

    I think I can confirm the assumption made by the supporters that we all have some areas of agreement, like the willingness to welcome new neighbors and the interest in improving a blighted property. I do not agree that this proposal improves a blighted property, I believe it blights a very special place, and that it sets a precedent for further industrial blight.

    As for a more intensive development, you may be sure that if there is this much opposition to this project, there would be as much or more opposition to rezoning this property for greater density. A more likely alternative would be finding someone who appreciated an historic house in a beautiful neighborhood and who wanted to restore it, even add to it if they needed more space. That would be a desirable neighbor, but we can’t always choose our neighbors. We can only hope that our new neighbors will be considerate and sensitive to their impact to the neighborhood.

    I cannot agree that joining together in support of this project will go a long way toward healing the recent divisiveness in the neighborhood. The opponents of this project have done their homework, their fears appear to be warranted. I believe that it was the strategic decision not to include anyone except the four immediate neighbors in the process that has created the divisiveness, which is why the City of Berkeley specifically discourages this approach to projects of this nature.

    The process that allowed this project to get as far as it has is as much of a testament to what is wrong with that process as the proposed house would be a monument to shortsighted self interest at the expense of the entire community.

  3. I would not agree on the obviousness of the choice, as residential traffic is usually much more predictable & scheduled. Residents are also more aware of local conditions. Commercial / event traffic often comes at times that can conflict with local residential enjoyment. Those coming to the event are often unfamiliar with the area & its local conditions.

    The crux of the question is whether the proposed project truly worthy of R1 qualification? I think the evidence calls it into question. If it is not, then it should either go elsewhere or be scaled to be consonant with the zoning.

    You are correct that the existing parcel could be subdivided. If that happened, it is likely that traffic from only one of the parcels would exit Rose Street. The potential impact to the Rose/Greenwood intersection area would be no different than existing conditions.

  4. This is an R1 lot that could probably be split into four pieces legally under the code.

    That means that it is entirely capable of sustaining 4 families (or more) in 4 houses with 4 garages and associated cars/traffic on that street.

    Now ask yourself if the neighbors would prefer intermittent bursts of traffic resulting from occasional fundraisers, or the regular traffic of 4 different households with 8 – 20 people every day.

    I submit the choice is obvious.

  5. One of the questions not raised above is the qualification of this project as R1-worthy. As noted, there is a tremendous amount of space in this structure available for future (commercial/institutional?) development. The amount of proposed parking is sufficient to support commercial / institutional traffic. The prospective homeowner has been quoted the the Daily Californian stating that a significant portion of the house would be used for fund raising activities & other public concerns.

    If this non-residential use of the proposed property comes to pass, there will be a significant increase in traffic – either up & down a narrow, poorly paved two block portion of Rose Street (with a sidewalk) or onto Greenwood Terrace (poorly paved & with no sidewalk) in a pedestrian area populated with a high percentage of elderly residents. I do not think this is consistent with R1 planning, and could introduce a serious traffic hazard to the neighborhood.

    I think the ZAB should be digging a little deeper into the intended use of the property, and discern whether it accurately matches the definition of R1. It may be more appropriate adjacent to to UCB or in an area of town with better traffic resources.

  6. Thomas,

    What you are assuming is the bottom floor is not a finished floor – it’s basically the ‘crawl space’ under the house, though it’s about 7 or 8 feet tall. Certainly larger than my crawl space, but not un-characteristic of how houses are built in the hills. The engineering drawings linked to in the post make this a bit clearer I think.

    I have no horse in the race, although I do think it’s fairly bizarre that “neighbors” who don’t seem to be directly impacted by the project care. I mean, I see your arguments, and if you were the builder’s friend, I can see trying to talk him out of the location, or of having a combined space. But I don’t understand why you (or the others who filed the appeal) give a damn. It kind of reminds me of the huge battle that the Berkeley Bowl West had to go through to get their permits — the anti-argument was greatly weakened when it turned out that the vast majority of residents and neighbors were in favor of the project — it was the rich folks in the hills with too much time and money to spare that were fighting the fight.

  7. I see the appeal is leading with “story poles”; well done. Might I suggest some sections of 1″ pvc pipe as a visual aide at the appeal to illustrate the height at the NW corner. Bonus if you spray paint an additional section for the plinth (this is not part of the actual height, but is part of the base that will tower over Shasta).

  8. “Well, its the applicant’s money, not yours,”

    Yeah, no kidding. I guess I’m not being clear enough. I think the project is kinda cool in a lot of ways. I think it’s a little nuts to build on that scale in those hills so close to the fault but, hey, whatever. My general sentiment is that Mr. K. should be able to settle comfortably around these parts. I mention the ambition and the money only because I think that supports the conclusion that its reasonable to ask for a voluntary stepping back and reconsideration of the exact details. Please don’t confuse kibbitzing with either hostility or endorsement.

    “Better for who? The Applicants apparently like their design, why do you feel compelled to impose your own narrow subjective judgement of what is an acceptable living space?”

    I hardly think I’m imposing a damn thing. There is an egotistical component to my comments there, I confess. I’m trying to talk a little bit past the debate here and suggest fairly directly to the applicants that, well, if *I* had their money and was determined to go for their stated goals in Berkeley — I think the sweet spot looks a little different from where their planning took them. Yes, I’m opinionated. No, I’m not the pretentious jerk you make me out to be.

    “From reading the notes it is apparent the current objections to the proposal are all derived from persons who have no direct contact or immediate impact from the house. Their main objection is rather transparent, namely, they resent certain folks with more means – its just classic class warfare.”

    Um, no. You’re being silly.

    There are, as noted in the comments you refer to, some pretty serious questions about the presentation of this project to the public and about the conduct of the process by which it won ZAB approval – those are real and pretty well argued for concerns.

    Just thinking about it as a game: the applicants can shove ahead and they might win or they might lose. If they lose, it’s a pretty hard lose. If they win, it’s a win that looks like it’ll come with a lot of resentment and probable future retribution efforts. In the alternatives, they can *not* shove ahead, fall back a bit, and either better prove the project as planned or make alternative plans. In the “better prove” scenario it’s win-win all around. In the alternative plans scenario, it’s win-win all around. Both alternatives there cost more money and time but, as I said (and this was my point) it’s an expensive and ambitious project in the first place.

    Please don’t accuse me of class warfare when my aim is depolarize and get creative juices flowing. I *do* engage in class warfare when I think it is called for and in this case, I think that would be premature. Sheesh.

  9. TL, you write:

    “This is an enormously expensive and ambitious project. ”

    Well, its the applicant’s money, not yours, and they are entitled to spend it as they see fit within the parameters of the permit system.

    “I also – and betraying my personal biases – have a radical alternative suggestion for the applicants: Painful though it may be at first glance, I say, scrap the whole idea!”

    That’s very honorable, but its easy to be generous when it is someone else’s time and $$. This attitude is unfortunately very contagious in Berkeley.

    “And besides, who *really* wants to live in a mini convention center ? There are, it seems to me, better ways to do this thing than are currently proposed.”

    Better for who? The Applicants apparently like their design, why do you feel compelled to impose your own narrow subjective judgement of what is an acceptable living space?

    Its rather ironic that in the City of Berkeley – which is purportedly proud of its diversity of opinions – that there is an overwhelming and judgmental attitude in the citizenry that everyone knows better than the next guy what is acceptable or appropriate for (fill in the blank) and more often than not such perspective is extremely narrow and biased as you freely admit.

    From reading the notes it is apparent the current objections to the proposal are all derived from persons who have no direct contact or immediate impact from the house. Their main objection is rather transparent, namely, they resent certain folks with more means – its just classic class warfare.

  10. With all due respect to the immediate neighbors here, just as some examples:

    The picture accompanying this piece – the model – very clearly depicts a structure of three stories. There is one semi-open on the bottom and two mostly enclosed above. Adds up to three. Hard to see it any other way.

    How is this a 2-story building? What code, exactly, supports calling this a 2-story building? I’d like to know what, if any, technical language in the code supports calling this a 2-story building.

    And:

    The response from the architect responds to criticism that the H-district requirement was not met for story poles by appealing to a statement on the *application forms* about staff discretion rather than appealing to the ordinance. By all means, sue the City for a few grand for having misleading forms but I believe it is the Ordinance, not the forms, that are normative here.

    And:

    That bit about how the appeal “implies” (allegedly) that new construction must be invisible: Excuse me, but, the appeal does no such thing. The proponents there make an incredibly unfair characterization of the opponents they are busy polarizing.

    This is an enormously expensive and ambitious project. It might very well wind up succeeding and *creating* a historic landmark that will be widely appreciated for decades to come — or it might be a horrible idea that has to be scaled back a lot. It’s evident that pains were taken to avoid the pains of contentious process — but equally evident that those have failed (or, more precisely, only partially succeeded while partially failing). It’s common sense that a project of this scale and ambition and proposed use deserves extremely careful scrutiny in such a challenging geographical and historical area – yet the proponents seems insistent on railroading past such scrutiny.

    I (again) suggest that the honorable applicants for this project consider voluntarily backing off and making peace rather than sustaining this particular fight.

    I also – and betraying my personal biases – have a radical alternative suggestion for the applicants: Painful though it may be at first glance, I say, scrap the whole idea! Demolish the blighted structure and put up a similar (perhaps slightly larger) structure in its place for personal use. Acquire, say along south Sacramento, some land for an “event” space supported by street-level retail use – hold the philanthropic events *there*. Berkeley doesn’t need and is likely to fight hard against having its own new Hearst castle. It does need infrastructure and economic development. And besides, who *really* wants to live in a mini convention center :-)? There are, it seems to me, better ways to do this thing than are currently proposed.

  11. I just have a question about point #9 – the CGS hazard map *seems* to place you in an earthquake and a landslide zone. Last time I checked, the City used those maps to define areas that were to be treated this way. But I agree 100% that it should not make any difference since AP specifically excludes two story residential wood structures from its purview.