By Jacob Bourne
At 41 Tunnel Road near the border between Oakland and Berkeley, the historic Claremont Club & Spa, A Fairmont Hotel is up for expansion by locally based Signature Development Group. The expansion site will cover about 19 acres of the property of which almost a quarter acre will fall into the City of Berkeley.[contextly_sidebar id=”68WSnYPiDZRcZCtOy0fbQcV27gJoYVxK”]The project is multi-faceted involving the addition of a 45-unit condo complex on the site’s southeastern side and two single family homes adjacent to Tunnel Avenue. The condos will range in size from one to three bedrooms. At the northwestern end, club facility improvements covering 6,000 square feet will include a pool and children’s club area. The upgrades will accompany an increase in club membership by 250 people. Landscaping, circulation and parking modifications will also be made throughout the project site including an additional 98 parking spaces. The residential complex will feature underground parking and a Eucalyptus path connecting the nearby hotel building. The proposed building site is about two and half miles from the Downtown Berkeley BART Station.
The project is in the preliminary stages with a draft environmental impact review to be released in several months. While the relatively small-scale project is still in its inception, there has already been some opposition from neighbors in surrounding communities. David Kessler, president of Neighbors Against Claremont Property Expansion is concerned that the project will result in negative impacts on the area and that the condos will detract from the attractiveness of the hotel. Kessler maintains that he and others want the hotel to be profitable and advised that existing, unused hotel rooms be converted into long-term housing units.
“With residents of the condos using Tunnel Road, traffic congestion will get worse and competition tennis matches are going to limit parking in the area,” stated Kessler. “On the other side of the hotel they want to increase club membership, that’s going to create a lot of noise for the surrounding quiet Berkeley neighborhood.”
According to Rachel Flynn, director of Oakland’s Planning and Building Department, the project is currently going through a CEQA analysis and public comments from both supporters and those opposed to the project are under review.
“Oakland needs more housing and density to prevent sprawl and this project provides opportunities for home ownership,” Flynn said. “We take concerns very seriously and may need to do a noise study. Our transportation department will have to look into any traffic mitigation that needs to be done. Many people walk and bike to College Avenue. It’s very walkable. It’s also likely that there will be a fair amount of retirees moving in, given the type of development.”
Michael Ghielmetti, president of Signature Development Group views the project and upgrades to the hotel in general as essential to the preservation of the iconic landmark that will benefit Oakland and the region over the next 100 years. He praised the hotel’s current owners for their investment in the property, notably $40 million that has already been spent on improvements.
“We’ve met with over 800 people, and we’ve gotten a ton of positive feedback from people interested in the housing that will be erected,” offered Ghielmetti. “We really want to be good stewards of the property. Our company has been building in Oakland for 20 years, and we do a lot of community outreach. We’ve gotten a great deal of support for this project.”
Ghielmetti emphasized that the expansion is in the initial stages and that during the EIR process experts will be studying potential traffic and parking impacts and that mitigation measures will be sought by the development team if necessary. He hopes for full project approval sometime next year and anticipates construction to begin in 2018 with an estimated completion in 2020, depending on market conditions.
Claremont Hotel Properties, LP owns the site. Architects Hart Howerton, Levy Design Partners and civil engineer RJA will be working alongside Signature Development Group.