by Thomas K. Pendergast
A controversial proposal to construct two buildings on corner lots at the intersection of 26th Avenue and Clement Street came up at the San Francisco Planning Commission in January, but commissioners quickly punted it down their calendar with a continuance, rescheduling it for the commission’s Feb. 20 meeting.
One building will reach the maximum height of 40 feet allowed by zoning rules, but a variance is being sought for the other so that it can top out at 45 feet.
According to city documents, the project would demolish a two-story building now sitting on a northwest-corner lot, which contains two units and ground floor commercial space. The developer would then construct two four-story buildings with a garage area, each containing three units, and the ground floor remaining for commercial space. The two buildings will contain a total of six units between them.
Critics of the project claim the one building would be built into what is now a rear yard area, and the other building would not only be taller than the usual limit, but it would also have a rooftop penthouse and deck, which might send the project to a height of 60 feet.
Opponents have submitted a petition to Supervisor Eric Mar’s office and the SF Planning Department, which contains 132 signatures with addresses indicating that most are local residents seeking to stop the project.
Mar responded by joining the opponents in asking the commission for a continuance.
Planning Commissioner Gwyneth Borden supported the continuance.
“I kind of lean toward the continuance just because we have so much opposition and a supervisor asking for it, but I would want to consult with the project sponsor in terms of a date that seems fair,” Borden said. “Obviously, there has to be time for you to do some outreach with the community to find out what their concerns are. … You could benefit from a little bit of community conversation.”
Architect Jeremy Schaub spoke on behalf of the project sponsor and opposed the continuance, saying it was not fair to his client.
“We feel it’s an unfair burden on our project sponsor. We’ve been working with the (SF Planning) Department for about a year on this project,” Schaub said. “We have received no resistance to the project until Monday, so we feel that it’s unfair that we’ve been working all throughout the process, had our pre-application meeting, been working with adjacent neighbors, and didn’t know of any opposition until this week.”
An attorney for the opposition, Stephen M. Williams, acknowledged to the commission that there was a pre-application meeting held about a year ago, but countered by claiming that there has not been any community outreach from the project sponsor since then.
“It’s an extraordinary project, a real game-changer,” said Williams. “(The project) involves three variances, subdivision of a lot, demolition, Conditional Use, and destruction of sound affordable housing. The plan is to put a four-story-plus building in the current rear yard of the existing lot. So, the community was really caught by surprise with this. There’s been absolutely no discussion or vetting of this project … about 12,000 square feet of construction. It’ll be the largest project on the west side of San Francisco.”
Commissioner Hisashi Sugaya said he could support a continuance of the project so the two sides can come together to try and resolve the issues between them.
“I think for me one of the issues is the required rear yard, required open space not being on the ground floor,” Sugaya said. “I personally don’t have a problem with the height.”
Borden explained to the project sponsors what she wants to happen before it comes up again on the commission’s Feb. 20 calendar.
“All we’re asking you to do is have a meeting with the neighbors to discuss things. No one is saying you have to do anything in particular other than open a dialog and make sure people are aware of the project,” Borden said.
Ben Coleman, a real estate broker with Hartford Properties, opposed the continuance, implying it was a stalling tactic that could drive up the project’s cost, noting that it had already been before the SF Planning Department for more than 10 months by that point.
“Ten months and three weeks, that’s a long time,” Coleman said. “So, I don’t think it’s a matter of notice. I don’t think it’s a matter of outreach. I think it’s just a stalling tactic and I understand that, but people that are doing this type of thing, it’s very costly and time consuming to be involved in this process.”
But one neighbor seemed to view the situation from the opposite point of view. Tony Lee said he was at the pre-application meeting last year and wanted to comment on what had happened, or more to the point, not happened, since then.
“I think there has been a little bit of misdirection,” said Lee. “The plans he provided to us were different from the plans he provided to the City. When we confirmed that, it just kind of made us think, ‘OK, what’s really going on here?’ … These recent hearing notices were sent out over the holiday vacation. I think, in total, this type of misdirection is really geared at suppressing community response.
“I strongly feel that a move to continuance would give us the opportunity to get more awareness out, let everybody know this is really happening, and just kind of get a feel for the community and whether or not they’re really for or against this,” Lee said.
The commission voted four to one in favor of the continuance to Feb. 20, with Commission President Rodney Fong voting against.
Categories: Richmond Review