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Sunday, January 20, 2013

Wareham Welches On Deal To Save Historic Factory In Berkeley

Like Emeryville, the planning department at Berkeley city hall is allowing Wareham Development to run the table, at least in the West Berkeley Project area.  With an all-too-familiar bait and switch tactic, Wareham is now going to demolish the historic Heinz factory building in west Berkeley after having previously promised to save at least two walls of the building as they begin construction of a lab complex there.  
Many preservationists have noted the idea that historic buildings can be considered "saved" by allowing only a wall or two left standing and incorporated into a much larger new building is dubious at best.  But in Berkeley as in Emeryville, some developers can't even grant this meager concession. At Emeryville's City Limits condo project on 67th Street, only one wall was to be left standing from the original historic factory but that was later determined to be "too expensive" to save so the developer, Pulte Homes, was allowed to tear down the whole thing.  This determination was made by Pulte after the agreement was made with the city of Emeryville but before work began on the project.  Pulte told the city that saving the wall "won't pencil out" and that was good enough for City Hall.   
That Pulte and Wareham originally expressed desires to tear down their whole buildings is not considered to be enough evidence that the agreement between the city and the developer was entered into in bad faith apparently.  Developers it would appear, are always to be given the benefit of the doubt regardless that the raison d'etre of these development corporations is first and foremost the fiduciary duties to their shareholders.

Here is the Berkeleyside story on Wareham:

Wareham: Preservation of historic factory too expensive

Wareham Development will demolish the seismically unstable Copra Warehouse at 740 Heinz Ave. to build a new laboratory. Photo: Ira Serkes
Wareham Development will demolish the seismically unstable Copra Warehouse at 740 Heinz Ave. to build a new laboratory. Photo: Ira Serkes
Four years after Wareham Development proposed transforming a historic West Berkeley warehouse into a laboratory building, the company is seeking to tear down the entire structure instead of preserving two brick walls.
Construction costs have gone up and rents have declined since the city approved Wareham’s 2009 design for 740 Heinz and it is now too expensive to build around the rickety walls, according to Chris Barlow, a partner in Wareham, which is headquartered in San Rafael. It will be much easier – and cheaper – to build a new 100,000 square foot structure, Barlow told the Zoning Adjustments Board in late September.
ZAB approved Wareham’s application to completely tear down the Copra Warehouse, which was part of the Durkee Foods complex built in 1917. Jeff Kaplan, representing The Friends of the West Berkeley Plan, is challenging the approval. The City Council will take up the matter on Jan. 22.
“This seems like a very greedy move to me,” David Bowman told ZAB at the Sept. 27 hearing. “They got 98% of what they wanted in the process the last time. They did not follow through when they could afford it. Now they want to make it so it works better financially. That is not your duty.”
Wareham, which leases the building from Garr Land and Resource Management, already owns a number of other structures at its adjacent Aquatic Park Center complex. The developer has been trying to do something with 740 Heinz for more than 10 years. The building, which was designated a Berkeley landmark in 1985, is unreinforced masonry and is considered one of the most seismically unsafe in the city, according to a planning department report. In 2002, the city declared the property a public nuisance.
In 2009, Berkeley granted Wareham a variance to develop the property. In exchange for retaining the historic north and south facades, the city allowed the company to exceed the neighborhood’s height and story limit. While the bulk of the old factory was 34 feet high, one section went as high as 74 feet. The city gave Wareham permission to build a $52 million, four-story research and development structure that was 74 feet high and had a 49-stall underground parking garage. Wareham had to do an EIR as part of the development plan.
Wareham wants to modify that design, stating it is too expensive to build and will not provide an adequate return on investment.  Since 2009, construction costs have increased by 17% and rents for bioscience R&D have declined 15%, which together make keeping the two historic walls financial unfeasible, said Barlow. Now the company wants to build an entirely new $44.5 million structure with a two-story lobby with a green roof on the south side of the building. It has also asked to slightly expand the first, third, and fourth floors, but maintain the setbacks established in 2009, and eliminate the parking, among other changes.
“The only way to make (the building’s financials) feasible is to take down the two walls,” Barlow told ZAB. “Keeping them comes at a significant expense.”
The generally accepted industry threshold for an acceptable investment risk for this kind of project is 7.2%, according to a report prepared for ZAB. The old design would have given Wareham a 4.85% return, while the new design will generate a 5.86% return, which is still below the industry norm.
The Copra Warehouse at night. Photo: Ira Serkes
The Copra Warehouse at night. Photo: Ira Serkes
ZAB, in a divided voted, approved the new plans and decided that the changes were minimal enough that Wareham only had to do an addendum to the existing EIR rather than an overhaul.
The Friends of the West Berkeley plan are arguing that the amended EIR “was neither adequate, subject to public comment, nor was it certified in compliance with CEQA.” The group has also expressed concern that researchers will be doing synthetic biology in the new complex and that the amended EIR did not adequately review “potential risks to the surrounding environment and human health associated with laboratory use.” More than 30 tenants of the nearby building at 800 Heinz signed a petition against the new structure.
As recently as 1985, there were eight buildings or features of the Durkee complex still standing. The destruction of the Copra Warehouse means there will only be two left, the Durkee Building at 800 Heinz and the Spice Warehouse at 820 Heinz.
City staff is recommending that the City Council deny the appeal of the Friends of the West Berkeley Plan, stating that the changes proposed by Wareham in 2012 do not materially affect the project approved in 2009. The city stands to collect at least $342,500 from the building’s construction: $194,000 will go into the Housing Trust Fund, $48,500 will go in the City Childcare Fund, and the owners will pay about $100,000 in property taxes the first year, according to a city staff report. The building will also create 300 new jobs.
Barlow told ZAB that “there is no research space of this quality available in Berkeley now.”


  1. Tattler, you've done it again. Keep up the good reporting, and maybe local officials will eventually notice the pattern you've pointed out. They keep getting outsmarted by Wareham Development at public expense.

  2. As if 2 walls will preserve a historic building? Seriously? So you probably agree the 2 walls they saved on the new Archstone transient hotel going in on Hollis and Stanford will pay homage to the lovely historic building they tore down. Riiiight. Not all buildings, sorry...WALLS..from that era were meant to last forever...or should. Aren't there more inportant things you should be chasing Mr. Tattler? Like Parking and the fact that the city is going to make us all pay $20+/month to park in front of our own houses? Whatever happened to the issue of tearing out 20 year old non-native trees? These are the issues that affect us most.

    1. I agree with your premiss that saving a wall or two makes a mockery of the idea of preservation. The fact that City Hall disagrees with us and thinks this IS preservation is a story the people of Emeryville should know.
      A bigger story is the constant ignoring of our new General Plan the city council engages in. That plan calls for the "adaptive re-use" of the same buildings developers are tearing down. In many cases we're talking about specific buildings called out as being "architecturally significant" with protections written into the plan. The 'Parkside' project that you refer to on Hollis and Stanford streets was such a building.
      The newsworthy thing here is that the General Plan, vetted by the people of Emeryville, paid for by them at a cost of $4 million and worked on over 5 years is not worth the paper its printed on. That's a story that people should know: all their treasure and volunteer effort was for naught as it turns out, torpedoed by the city council. The people should know this.

    2. Regardless of what you may think about the preservation of historic buildings, your voice is but one...a valuable one but alas only one. The majority of the people of Emeryville have spoken on this issue and what they want is prescribed in the General Plan. This is the same plan that received an award for its remarkable democratic vetting. One can make the argument that the people made a mistake when they called for the adaptive re-use of these historic buildings in town but it is given that this is the will of the people.
      I take it as also a given that the people of Emeryville, after volunteering their time to help write the General Plan, walked away after its completion secure in their minds that City Hall would implement it in good faith. As time marches on and developers demand approval for projects in violation, the city council has been taking apart the people's plan, remaking it in developer's interests. I think this is not something you or any reasonable person would agree is proper public policy.

    3. I do support and value preserving HISTORIC buildings, still preserving a wall or two of a run-down old factory is a mockery of that my humble opinion.
      I still would like to know if the commercial builders get out of paying the fees for the hundreds of new residents on the building permits when the project is deemed a "remodel" as opposed to "New Construction" as it is with residential building permits. If this is the case, it represents a huge loss of needed revenue to the schools and community services.

  3. Yes the lack of the City Council's concern for a General Plan that supports FAMILIES in this community is THE issue in my basket. It's an issue that is on-track to ultimately doom the School District as well.
    Personally I think preserving a wall or two does not constitute preservation, however it does save the builder money in that the construction permit is issued for a "Remodel" instead of "New Construction". When I built my house I had to pay over $10K in school fees alone because it was new construction; the reason being new construction constitutes new residents that the Schools and City will now have to support. It hurt a bit financially but I'm okay with that, it makes sense. I planned on raising my family here at the time. Remodels do not have to pay those fees because in theory no new residents are coming into the City. Here's my question for the Tattler to snoop out:
    Since they left two walls up in the new Parkside Temporary Housing Facility (Apartments), is it deemed a remodel? And if it is does that mean they get away without paying those fees?
    We're talking about 100's of new residents constantly rotating through this new complex that the city will now have to support.
    I guess now that I think about it, it makes sense that the City wants to start charging you monthly rent to park in front your house. They need the money.
    One more question:
    How much do the new residents have to pay to park in their parking garage? I guarantee that if it's anything the new residents will be parking all over the streets. Did the city let the developers get away with that on the permits?

  4. I have one more comment on this preservation thing and then I'll go away. I remember John Fricke worked so hard to get those old houses preserved across the street from Anna Yates. One day you were nosing around there Brian we stopped and had a brief conversation about them. You mentioned that squatters had taken over one of the houses. Is that true? If so, was it really all that noble in the end?

    1. Not sure if squatters are still there but this is not something that should paralyze our efforts to create a more livable city in my opinion,

    2. And the house in question was not part of the Oakwalk project.

    3. Good Response. I do agree.