Small cottage poses larger development questions

By Thomas K. Pendergast


A small cottage built more than a century ago might fall to the latest wave of gentrification

and land speculation, which has already swept through places like the Mission District and

Noe Valley, and now seems to be washing over the Richmond District.


A one-story, over-garage flat at 318 30th Ave. that was bought a couple of years ago in an

estate sale is slated for demolition, and a two-unit, three-story residential development is

proposed to take its place, pending a decision by the SF Planning Commission on Dec. 14.


The commission first considered the project on Oct. 5, but ultimately rejected a four-story

building plan on a 4-3 vote, with commissioners Rich Hillis, Christine Johnson and Joel

Koppel dissenting. They sent the project sponsors back to the drawing board, with

instructions to come up with a two-unit, three-story version.


At the October meeting a neighbor at 314 30th Ave., Connie Best, summed up the

feelings of some in the neighborhood. “Our house is one of four that has stood side by side

for more than a century, including the subject of this proposal,” said Best.


“These houses define the neighborhood and its cultural heritage. They are endangered by a

wave of development that’s transforming one of San Francisco’s last affordable places, as

developers seek big bucks building for the one-percenters,” said Best. “We’re not in

opposition to more housing. We’re in opposition to excessive projects that do nothing to

address affordable housing for the middle class: the police, firefighters, tradespeople and

school teachers who have made the Richmond their home for generations.”


Best and other neighbors still oppose the project, even after the bulk was lessened.


“While they took off the top story, it’s still just as big,” said Best. “They have squished it into

a massive, blocky building that has two big units that are not affordable for the

middle class.”


She describes the situation as “typical” of what has been happening recently in this part of

town by “pricing out middle-class families.”


At the October meeting, Christopher May of the SF Planning Department argued in

favor of the four-story plan. He said the department had received nine letters from local

households opposing the project and a petition signed by 28 area residents asking them

to reject it.


“It would maximize the permanent residential density on this site by replacing a

single-family home with two family-sized dwellings,” said May.


Nevertheless, a couple of commissioners had reservations about the cottage’s demolition.


“The tearing down of this unit is not really increasing the number of dwelling units, at

least not in that area where we need them,” said Commissioner Kathrin Moore. “These are

trophy units that can be afforded by those who can pay for them but it’s really not

addressing any of the issues we heard everybody talking about here. I believe that

that is not really understanding the social and economic dynamics of what the challenges

are, which are posed to us every week.”


Commissioner Rodney Fong also expressed hesitancy at demolishing the 1,900-square-foot

cottage and replacing it with two larger units.


“There are many, many houses like this throughout the City, but particularly in the

Richmond and Sunset. This, to me, is a cutie and I hate to see it go,” said

Fong. “I feel like, even though it’s been vacant, it’s a habitable home for somebody.”


Commissioner Christine Johnson, however, said there will be tough choices like this in

the future, so now is not the time to keep putting those choices off.


“We need much more housing than we have right now,” said Johnson. “When we look at

cottages like this . . . it is going to be looked at either for its development

potential or for its future resale value to someone else. I don’t consider those affordable

homes anymore.”

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