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Another big apartment project approved

160-units on El Camino includes retail, public plaza

After being praised for its exemplary design, the City Council approved a project Nov. 12 that will bring 160 new apartments with retail shops and a public plaza to 1984 El Camino Real.

"I think it's great project," said council member Margaret Abe-Koga at the City Council meeting. "We talk about the Grand Boulevard on El Camino and I think this is the right step forward on that."

The council voted 6-1 to approve the project with member Jac Siegel opposed.

Developer UDM is now set to redevelop the 2.85-acre site now home to a hotel, Camino Inn and Suites. Plans include a wide sidewalk along El Camino Real, a new public plaza and pathway along its western edge from Latham Street to El Camino Real, a pool and recreation rooms, 4,400 square feet for retail shops and potentially a restaurant. It will have an underground garage with 258 parking spaces -- one parking space for each bedroom and 24 spaces for shop customers.

Council member Mike Kasperzak said he hoped the project, along with the Greystar project at El Camino Real and Castro Street, were the start of a trend to include retail space with new apartment projects.

"There's numerous reasons why we're the only developer proposing retail as part of our plan," said UDM's Don MacKenzie. "It's a very costly thing to do as part of this development."

He added that the project's "double-height retail (as high as two residential stories) is what we feel will provide opportunity for retail to be very successful."

Siegel didn't like the "industrial and contemporary" architecture and lack of parking.

"We think its the kind of contemporary look that the resident we're trying to attract is interested in,"McKenzie said.

The developer is also betting that apartment tenants won't have much use for parking, as has been the case in other new apartment projects in the city occupied by tech employees who take shuttles to and from their jobs.

Siegel acknowledged the trend for less parking, but objected to having only one parking space for each of the 87 one-bedroom apartments. "You are not going to have one person in a one-bedroom the way rents are soaring," Siegel said. "I don't know why we want to create a problem five years from now, 10 years from now. I don't know why we are trying to create Berkeley here, where if you find a parking place you go buy a car."

Council member John McAlister and others praised the inclusion of retail space.

"The project is very good compared to everything else," McAlister said. "I want that retail to be successful. If there is not enough parking it doesn't matter what retail you have, that retail is going to fail."

MacKenzie said the project boasted more open space than other similar projects, 34 percent of the site. He said the project also boasts a more valuable transit package than usual, including shared Zip cars, electric car chargers and free Clipper cards or transit subsidies for residents. He anticipates growing electric car use, noting that the Madera complex on Evelyn Avenue has only two chargers for the six electric cars that tenants have.

The loss of a large oak tree on the site was decried by council member Ronit Bryant, who said it was over 100 inches in diameter.

"That kind of oak tree will take many decades to reach that size," Bryant said. "Part of quality of life is the trees that we have."

"We would have loved to have saved that tree," MacKenzie said. "It's just right at the epicenter for that corner of the property and that garage." Saving it "would eliminate a lot of the parking."

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