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Dental/Retail Plan on Solano Heads to Planning Commission

A proposal to knock down a prominently located house on Solano Avenue on the Albany-Berkeley border and replace it with a two-story dental-retail complex is scheduled to go before the Albany Planning Commission this week.

The Albany Planning & Zoning Commission this week will consider a developer's proposal to demolish a house on a highly visible Solano Avenue corner on the Albany-Berkeley border and replace it with a two-story complex containing dental offices and retail space.

The existing house at 1600 Solano Ave. sits on the southest corner of Solano and Ordway Street, along one of busiest commercial stretches of Solano. The house sits in Albany, while the other side of Solano, on the north, is in Berkeley.

The zoning application, from Kava Massih Architects for PL & DK Properties LLC, proposes to erect a 6,200-square-foot commercial building, with approximately 4,000 square feet of dental office space, plus 1,200 square feet of ground-floor retail space, according to a city staff report prepared for the Albany Traffic and Safety Commission's Feb. 28 meeting. The report is attached to this article.

The building would contain an orthodonic dental practice that would relocate from its current location several blocks east on Ensenada in Berkeley, the staff report says.

"The proposed application is consistent with the City’s overall goals of revitalizing Solano Avenue and providing services for local residents," the report says. "In addition, the urban design of the proposed new building is high quality and meets all of the City’s development standards except parking."

The key issue before the Traffic and Safety Commission was the proposal's request to provide 14 parking spaces instead of the 20 off-street spaces required, according to the report.

The report notes that parking demand in that area is relatively high already.

"Parking surveys have confirmed occupancy rates are higher than most other portions of Albany’s business district," the report says. "Specifically, in 2010, a parking survey found that 79% of on-street parking was occupied. In 2013, between 82% and 87% were found to be occupied."

Possible remedies discussed at a Planning Commission airing on the proposal Feb. 13 included adoption of residential parking permits, a drop-off zone in front of the building and curb bulb-outs at the intersection, the report says.

The Planning Commission will consider the proposal at its next meeting, March 27, at 7 p.m. A report and agenda for the meeting are forthcoming, according to City Planner Anne Hersch.

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Aaron Priven March 25, 2013 at 04:34 PM
I don't think it's ugly. And the scale of development is much more appropriate than the single home that's there now. (Too bad it's so expensive to move houses, though.)
Robert Marshall March 25, 2013 at 05:33 PM
Appropriate? That house has been there for years and years. It's not like their proposing building a single story home on Solano today. If parking studies have shown that parking is nearing 90% if capacity in that section, and it has increased over 10% in three short years, that suggests it's going to be saturated in another three. It makes no sense to give them a 33% waiver on off-street parking.
Bronwyn Eisenberg March 25, 2013 at 05:36 PM
They should still be required to provide 20 parking spots, even if it means adapting their design.
Maya Dobjensky March 25, 2013 at 06:13 PM
I think the architecture of the building does not fit at all with the environment of Solano Avenue. It sticks out like a sore thumb.
Amy Smolens March 25, 2013 at 06:22 PM
They should also be required to provide bicycle parking for customers and clients. The space for one car can fit 8 bikes - see the photo that I will post with this article. Wouldn't that help solve the parking exception issue?
Senior A. Titude March 25, 2013 at 08:16 PM
If this is the ortho on Ensenada, their primary patient is kids/teens. They currently have no offstreet parking available so any amount of offstreet parking will reduce overall neighborhood congestion. Because the patients are kids, drop off is minimal; most parents accompany their children. Bike parking is a good idea - I have seen cargo bikes with kid carriers chained to posts outside their current location. However, the design looks like it belongs downtown in an office environment. Can't say I like it.
ryan kerrigan March 25, 2013 at 08:18 PM
The proposed design does not fit with the surrounding area/architecture. Besides, the area just does not need more commercial space, there are already multiple empty storefronts up and down solano avenue.....and while parking is certainly an issue in the neighborhood, traffic concerns are the real danger here, and this proposal seems to only worsen that fact
Brian Parsley March 25, 2013 at 08:50 PM
Solar panels, bike racks, traffic congestion, I smell a lawsuit on the horizon.
Albany Denizen March 25, 2013 at 10:10 PM
I like the orthodontist practice for its support of girls' softball over the years. But they should relocate to an area of Solano that needs businesses. The architecture would go better there, too. (See the orthodontist's building, northeast corner of Solano and Key Route.) A shame to do away with residential space, which is at a premium in Albany.
Trevor Grayling March 25, 2013 at 10:25 PM
The large, elegant tree in front of the current building would also disappear due to the new development. Good, if you want Solano to end up looking like any boxy retail strip.
Robyn Raymer March 25, 2013 at 11:10 PM
The house is beautiful. But I guess if the owners want it torn down, what can we do? Does Albany have any historic building statute? In any case, definitely make them provide all 20 parking spots. My haircutter is near there (Nina Homisak) and it's hard enough to park as it is.
Robyn Raymer March 25, 2013 at 11:13 PM
and, re. what Trevor G. said, make them provide a tree
Robyn Raymer March 25, 2013 at 11:15 PM
It's a good idea, but few people bring their kids to dental appts. on a bike. (They should, maybe, but they don't.)
D. Mehrten March 26, 2013 at 02:15 AM
Ugly and generic. Yup, "urban design." What happened to consideration for our treasured "small-town atmosphere" in the consideration of this faceless wonder?
Brian Parsley March 26, 2013 at 02:27 AM
We're you worried about the small town atmosphere when the latest treasured massage parlor went in at the old Nolte Photography space on San Pablo.
Tom O'Brien March 26, 2013 at 02:52 AM
The neighbors are very concerned about the project's impact on parking and, as a result of the lack of parking, traffic in the surrounding neighborhoods (Tacoma, Peralta, Ordway, Marin, Ventura). Observations of the current practice lead us to project that the practices will need close to 40 parking spaces but the current design for the building only has eight legitimate spaces. The developers are asking for Parking Exceptions to get from eight to 14 spaces and then, on top of the Parking Exceptions, asking for a Variance to get to the required 20. The parking survey (adjusted to use the legislated 500' Walking Distance measure) shows that the neighborhood is actually 90-93% occupied and that there are only 9 - 13 vacant parking spaces TOTAL within 500'. City staff recommended approval of both the Parking Exceptions and the Variance on top of the Parking Exceptions, and the Commission seems poised to approve it despite the dangerous precedent it sets for other Solano neighborhoods, so the Ordway neighbors welcome support from other neighborhoods that share our concerns!
Brian Parsley March 26, 2013 at 03:13 AM
I frankly don't have a problem with this as long as they don't park in my driveway or in front of my driveway. Maybe this is because we realize that we are not entitled to the public parking in front of our house.
Ross Stapleton-Gray March 26, 2013 at 03:54 AM
Forty parking spaces? Wha? Our girls go to that dentist (1st floor) and we've checked out the orthodontist (2nd) before opting for another one, and by no stretch of the imagination would both practices come close to requiring that much parking. We most often use the metered street parking on Ensenada or Solano now. What I'd love to know is what the AT&T facility in that block is like these days... I'm wondering if miniaturization of switches, and shifts from copper to fiber mean that that rather largeish facility has far less in it. It'd be a great oldish building to rehab (but preserving that dated charm) as something more interesting.
Tom O'Brien March 26, 2013 at 04:41 AM
Hi Ross, My daughter is also a patient at Aloha and we were there for her checkup a few weeks ago so I double checked - they have 2 patients scheduled every 15 minutes which means at peak 6 patients/parents in the downstairs (2 waiting, 2 being treated, 2 getting toys/stickers from the chest which can take longer than the appointment) at the same time + staff of 7 = 13. From reports of neighbors, upstairs seems similar. I sat outside the practices and counted back in September and got 24 people in the building during the peak periods and they're proposing a doubling of the Ortho practice size, plus the hike from parking to the building will be longer due to the horrible parking (which adds to the parking overhead since there will be more overlap between the arrivals and departures) so that's how we arrive at around 40 (there's also 1200 sq. feet of retail proposed in the development). We may be off by a few, but we feel the real number is a good bit more than the eight they can fit in their garage without making it unusable and potentially dangerous.
Tom O'Brien March 26, 2013 at 04:53 AM
Hi Brian, Unfortunately our neck of Solano suffers from chronic driveway-blocking parking. Just last month, the day after my son was born 6 weeks premature, I got a call from the Alta Bates NICU saying I should come in and I had to call Albany Police to help me navigate out of my driveway since someone was almost halfway into it. Same thing happened when I needed to go to pick up my wife from the hospital 2 days later. The greater concern for us is that parents, in a hurry to make their kids' appointments and not being able to find parking, will circle through the immediate neighborhoods (Ventura, Ordway, Peralta, Marin, Solano), pull into driveways, make dangerous turns, etc.
Erika Lockhart March 26, 2013 at 05:21 AM
It's a beautiful house and what a waste to replace it with a commercial building. I do support biking or walking but what working person is going to go home, pick up their bicycle, ride their kid to the dentist, ride home, and then ride back to work? There's a difference between bike accessibility and reality. Parking would definitely be a concern.
Clay Larson March 26, 2013 at 02:18 PM
Brian, Based on the City’s interpretation of new state law, massage parlors no longer require CUP’s. As a consequence, there are no opportunities for public participation on the location of these businesses.
Tom O'Brien March 26, 2013 at 05:13 PM
Hi folks, complete plans and comments are on the agenda page: http://albanyca.granicus.com/GeneratedAgendaViewer.php?event_id=d5d6e1dd-9b49-102e-b5c3-16ad23a5d22d
Stephanie Travis March 27, 2013 at 09:52 PM
Although the building is scheduled to be a dental/retail space I don't think any new space for business on Solano should be approved, unless it will contain only tax generating businesses. Most businesses on the part of Solano that is in Albany are already non-tax generating businesses, rather than businesses that would increase our non-residential tax base. Although I would prefer to spend my tax dollars in Albany, about the only time I do is when we eat out or go to Target. When the Safeway was renovated on Rose in Berkeley, the store announced it expected many of its customers to come from Albany. When a group proposed an increase in the El Cerrito sales tax, which passed, a selling point to El Cerrito residents was that much of the tax would be paid by non-residents, such as shoppers from Albany. Since the El Cerrito Plaza was completed nearby Albany residents have experienced a number of problems, due to the heavy traffic caused by Albany residents driving into the Plaza. Forcing residents to leave Albany increases traffic and air pollution and decreases the opportunity for local employment and the possibility of funding for city services and our schools.
Anne Bingham Goess March 31, 2013 at 05:09 PM
It might not be ugly in a different location, Aaron, but it would destroy the character of the neighborhood.
Anne Bingham Goess March 31, 2013 at 05:16 PM
I'm not against development on Solano, but I think it's terrible that we don't make an effort to save lovely old buildings like this house, when there are many other boxy, ugly characterless buildings on Solano that would be better candidates for replacement.
Anne Bingham Goess March 31, 2013 at 05:20 PM
Exactly!
Sheri Spellwoman April 02, 2013 at 04:27 PM
I agree with Trevor. Current design is awful. Looks sterile, boxy, clinical, ultra-urban and over-sized for the lot and character of the block. (It doesn't have to look like a hospital.) It needs more depth and character. Please include a planting area on Solano! Maybe build around the tree? At least replace the tree. Some curves would be nice. The design could contain echos of the original house, which is beautiful...
Tom O'Brien April 10, 2013 at 12:19 AM
Hi folks, This project is on the agenda for this week's Planning and Zoning Meeting on April 10th. Full plans are on the agenda page at http://albanyca.granicus.com/GeneratedAgendaViewer.php?view_id=6&event_id=123 The major change is in the proposed new on-street parking scheme which eliminates the current parking strip and sidewalk on Ordway and replaces them with angled parking and a diverted sidewalk that runs immediately adjacent to the building (and parking garage). http://albanyca.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=6&event_id=123&meta_id=64252
Brandon Loveland April 11, 2013 at 04:20 PM
The best thing about this lot is the beautiful old tree. It's a shame that it will have to be torn down. Also, those wrap-around steps seem unnecessary. I agree that there could be a generous planting area on the Solano side.

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