The Berkeley City Council approved a controversial plan to build a 6,400-square-foot house with a 10-car garage in a well-to-do hills neighborhood.
The 6-2 vote in favor of the project capped a year- long fight that pitted many area residents against one another.
Mitch Kapor, the 58-year-old founder of Lotus Development Corporation who bought the property and started planning his house two years ago, attended the meeting with his wife but declined to comment following the meeting. He did not speak to the council about his project.
But neighbors on both sides each brought about a dozen supporters to the meeting in addition to their own lawyers, architects, and geotechnical engineers to testify about the home's possible impact on the environment, views from surrounding houses, the stability of the hill if there is an earthquake and how the house will fit in with older houses in the area.
Councilmen Kriss Worthington and Jesse Arreguin voted no and Councilman Max Anderson was absent.
Council members Susan Wengraf and Linda Maio said they can't remember a time in Berkeley in the last 20 years when the immediate neighbors to a project supported it, but others farther away did not.
"I have been 20 years plus dealing with zoning issues and this is the first time the immediate neighbors have come to us and said 'please pass this because it's an advantage' and other neighbors are asking to deny it," Maio said. "It's an unusual situation."
Next door neighbor Paul Opsvig said he and his wife are glad to have the project because the Kapors will tear down an abandoned house on the lot that squatters have been living in from time to time over the last seven years.
"We emphatically support the project," Opsvig said. "It's deeply personal to us. We asked the Kapors to provide a turnaround at the end of Rose street and off-street parking and they did. They have displayed honesty and integrity. It benefits our street and our neighborhood and we want the project to go forward."
Attorney Susan Brandt-Hawley, whose law firm "Advocates for the adaptive reuse of California's unique historic assets and protection of aesthetic resources and cultural landscapes," according to her website, spoke against the project on behalf of area neighbors.
"The problem here is that there are significant unexplored environmental impacts," Brandt-Hawley said. "We know you have been told there are no problems. This just isn't true. The house on the site is eligible for the California register as an early work of a California architect."
Councilwoman Susan Wengraf, who said she lives about 800 feet from the project, chided opponents of the project for personal attacks on the Kapors and for their contention that the abandoned house on the site should be saved as a historic landmark.
"This is a neighborhood of extraordinary accomplished people," Wengraf said. "This application is not about the who, it's about the what. The innuendo that this project was fast tracked because of the celebrity and resource of the applicant has no factual basis.''
"This house has been there for a long time and has been deteriorating for 15 and abandoned for seven,'' she added. ``It's been occupied by transients and people who need help and has actually become a blight on the neighborhood."
Wengraf also said Berkeley is a city where people must get used to the idea that construction happens and that they are going to see other houses when they look out their windows.
"That's what we have to live with when we live in a city," Wengraf said.