Saturday, March 27, 2010

Univeristy of California - 1/City of Berkeley - 0

We have been working to move the Cheney Cottage, and the City of Berkeley has become a major roadblock.

The City staff all agree that this is a worthwhile project: we're restoring a dilapidated house in a low income area, and moving a historic house onto the property to save it.  Seems like a win to everyone.

But the City has it's own requirements, rules that it claims cannot be bent, and they are implacable about this.   And because of this, we are going to put the Cheney Cottage at increased risk, and spend extra cash putting it through not one but two moves.

Here's the story: in order to meet the April 21st deadline, we have to get the city to agree that we can move the Cheney Cottage to our land, and put it there, on blocks, until we complete the permitting process.  This has been done before, by other developers, but now the City is unwilling to consider it.

The City is claiming that these are the rules, that must be followed, but we know this has happened before.  What has changed?  Ryan Lau.

Ryan Lau is a staff person to Councilmember Darryl Moore, and he used to be on the Zoning Adjustments Board (until last week).  It recently came to light that Lau had torn down his garage and built another structure on his lot with no permits from the City.  Evidently, this was not just an oversight on a simple garage remodel - he completely removed the existing structure and replaced it.

This story has gotten a lot of local press, and the City, and particularly the Planning Department, are embarrassed by it. So as a result, the rules have become stricter - there will be no exceptions, so the City is not at risk.

We have tried to talk to Planning Staff, but they remain implacable about it.  They claim this has nothing to do with Ryan Lau, and that these are the rules.  I pointed out that these rules weren't exactly handed down from Moses: they are City established, and the City can be flexible in a situation that is deserving of special consideration.  And, I argued, the combination of restoring the Delaney House, and saving the Cheney Cottage, all on 62nd Street, is a powerful motivation to give this a special look.

But no go. The City says that, if the house is put anywhere within the City limits, we will need the permits first - and the only way to avoid this is to either keep the house on the University's land, or move it entirely out of the City of Berkeley.

Is this any way to treat a Historic Structure??

Meanwhile, up at the University, we have had a very different reception.  The April 21st deadline, which has to be met so construction on the Memorial Stadium can move ahead, has caused the University to put a lot of time and energy into helping us save the house.  Kevin Hufferd has really turned out to be a great ally in all this.  Kevin has helped us identify a piece of land in Albany, at Albany Village (a University-owned housing development) where the two pieces of the Cheney Cottage can be stored between April 21st and when we finally get all the permits from the City of Berkeley.  The University has even come up with money to cover additional costs for us.

Our big concerns now are: that the house has to be moved not once but twice; that moving the house to Albany and then back to South Berkeley will put significant strain on the house (it will probably travel 10-15 miles as opposed to 1.5 miles); and that the house may be vandalized while sitting down at Albany Village. 

But that is now the path we're taking.  We'll spend additional money and put the house at added risk to satisfy the City of Berkeley's processes.  The University is working with us.  But the City of Berkeley, which claims to be a place where preservation is valued, may not exactly be working against us, but they're certainly not a partner in this.  Saving the Cheney Cottage is really up to the University of California and us.

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