EL CERRITO -- The owner of a 117-year-old home and the half-acre plot on which it sits has come up with a new plan for building condominiums on the site that the city planning commission will be considering later this year.

Unlike earlier proposals to develop the site at 1715 Elm St., current plans call for preserving the home built by a family of Italian immigrants in 1897 and a narrow stretch of creek that runs through the property.

The plans call for moving the two-bedroom, 1,065-square-foot home south and west of its present location and constructing a three-story building containing three one-bedroom and 11 two-bedroom units. The home, vacant for more than a decade, would be renovated and used as a rental unit.

The 1897 Rodini house on Elm Street in El Cerrito would be relocated and the surrounding property developed as condominiums under a proposal that will come
The 1897 Rodini house on Elm Street in El Cerrito would be relocated and the surrounding property developed as condominiums under a proposal that will come before the city Planning Commission later this year. A section of creek on the site would also be preserved.

The city favors "a reasonable amount of development of the site, while retaining the older structure," said Margaret Kavanaugh-Lynch, El Cerrito's development services manager.

In addition, "We don't want to have the creek go underground," Kavanaugh-Lynch said. "We would like to keep it above ground."

Property owner Edward Biggs of Biggs Realty Inc. in Albany, who bought the property from descendants of the original owners, will need several variances from city zoning ordinances to get the go-ahead from the city, according to the staff report.

Variances to be addressed:

  • The proposed 35-foot height of the building is 10 feet above the limit for the neighborhood.


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  • The proposal calls for a side yard setback of five feet when the zoning requirement is 10 feet for a building greater than 25 feet in height.

  • The developer is proposing 15 parking spaces in a garage under the building when city parking rules require 21 spaces. The exception is based on proximity to public transportation, including the El Cerrito Del Norte BART station and several bus lines, and access to shopping.

  • Building codes allow one residential unit for every 1,250 square feet of property while the project proposal calls for one unit for every 1,220 square feet.

  • The project requires an amendment to the city's General Plan since the proposed density exceeds 35 units per acre.

    Biggs did not return a call seeking comment.

    A fence was removed and the site was cleared of trees and some other vegetation last weekend.

    The project is sensitive to historic preservation and environmental groups because of the age of the home, its role as a family farm, and the existence of the creek, but Tom Panas of the El Cerrito Historical Society and Susan Schwartz of Berkeley-based Friends of Five Creeks said they are reserving judgment on the proposal.

    "The fact that he is saving the building is great, but I don't know what I could comment on without a historic resource evaluation," Panas said.

    The home, known as the Rodini house, is a Queen Anne-style cottage and "a classic example of the kind of building arrangement typically found in the part of El Cerrito called Little Italy," according to the historical society website.