Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Story of 2133 Parker Street

2133 Parker as a duplex with a garage.

2133 Parker as a 19 bedroom, no garage 3-unit group house.

From the LeConte Neighborhood Association:
 2133 Parker: From Family Home to Group Living Accommodations by Gale Garcia

In January 2009, 2133 Parker Street was put up for sale after 50 years in the same family. Built in 1903, the house had been remodeled into a  duplex in the 1920s, and covered with asbestos shingles in 1953 – it was not pristine. But it had many historic features, including a lovely high-peaked hipped roof. Most importantly it was a family home with a back yard in a historic neighborhood that had been scarred by the building boom of the late 1950s through early 1970s.

Many neighbors, myself included, attended the open house for 2133 Parker. The realtor told us that several families had made bids on the property. It sold in early spring. I later learned that it was purchased by Ali Eslami, the developer who is planning a major expansion of the landmarked Obata Building at 2525 Telegraph Ave.

Sadly, construction began on the house late in 2009, with no notice to neighbors whatsoever. Construction isn’t quite the right term – destruction is more like it. The interior was gutted completely; the wooden windows were torn out. When workers began to remove asbestos shingles with no precautions, I contacted the Planning Department. My concerns about the asbestos were ignored, while workers proceeded to remove every fragment of material from the walls and roof except for the framing.

In March 2010, I learned that garage removal requires a Use Permit, meaning neighbors should be informed of the proposed removal. The basement garage at 2133 Parker Street, seen by neighbors during the open house in 2009, was well on its way to conversion into living space. With the basement becoming a residential floor, the structure was now three stories.

On Friday May 14, before a long weekend for City staff, workers began building a room-sized box surrounding the peak of the roof. The peak was then removed and a huge shed dormer sprouted from the back of the box. Thus, a fourth floor was born (fourth floors are not legal in R2A zones).

On Tuesday May 18, a city inspector checked to see if the fourth floor was in the plans that had been approved. It was not. The inspector issued a stop work order for the illegal fourth floor. Although exterior work on the fourth floor ceased, I could see workers continuing construction within the new floor. Clearly the owner believed it would be approved. The city inspector as much as told me that Planning staff was expected to approve the fourth floor.

A flurry of emails ensued between Planning staff, and many neighborhood members. Two neighborhood associations sent letters to Planning Director Dan Marks. The gist of the letters and emails was that the project should have  required a public hearing before the Zoning Adjustments Board because there were several violations of the municipal code, including:

• Addition of a fourth story in violation of a three-story limit

• Conversion of garage to living space without a public hearing

• Inadequate parking for Group Living Accommodations [Note added: 19 bedrooms, no parking spaces]

• Demolition without a demolition permit

• The applicant was clearly creating Group Living Accommodations (not legal in R2A zones) by creating three units with a total of 19 bedrooms

Why was the applicant able to perform alterations with such a heavy neighborhood impact – without notice to the neighbors? It would appear that Planning staff simply accepted Mr. Eslami’s claim that the garage had previously been eliminated with City approval, even though his architect’s plans for the existing structure labeled the area: “garage”.

Interestingly, a friend has been attempting to work with the system to get permits to alter a small accessory structure on her property, and had to jump through hoops, including testing for asbestos even though there was no evidence that her structure contained it.

I suspect that some applicants to the Planning Department are simply more equal than others, and that the favored ones just happen to be . . . developers. If any CNA readers have had interesting experiences with the Department while trying to alter their property, or have observed outrageous favors bestowed on certain privileged persons, please give me a call at 841-5055 and tell me your story.

As a result of the strong neighborhood response to the project at 2133 Parker, a true stop work order has been issued, and construction has been halted until the applicant restores the garage or receives a variance to eliminate it and acquires a Use permit for the fourth floor addition. If he had believed from the start that he would have to obey the rules, perhaps he would not have purchased this property. Sadly, a family home is gone forever.

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