Major Laurel Heights housing proposal contested

by Thomas K. Pendergast


A 13-building development planned at the University of California’s Laurel Heights

campus, a 10-acre site located at 3333 California St., has already drawn

community opposition, even as it is being reviewed by the SF Planning Department.


UCLH12192017b copy

The south side of the UC San Francisco Laurel Heights facility has a view of the high-rises
South of Market. Photo: Thomas K. Pendergast.


The proposal being developed by the Prado Group would: convert an existing office

building to residential use and divide a 68-foot-tall structure into two structures,

with vertical additions raising the height up to 92 feet; build 13 new buildings along the

perimeter of the lot, ranging in height from four to six stories; and demolish the surface

parking lots and annex building.


The contractor would partially excavate a part of the lot to enlarge an underground

parking structure to contain up to 895 off-street vehicle parking spaces, nine loading

spaces and 600 bicycle parking spaces. There would be two public open space corridors

along the north-to-south and east-to-west axes of the site, according to the SF Planning



In its current form, the project would be composed of a total of 15 buildings, containing

558 residential units, 49,999 square feet of office space, 54,117 square feet of retail space

and 14,690 square feet of space for a child care center.


Opponents of the plan say they are not against the development, per se, but the proposed

retail space is a problem. Because a change of zoning will be required from the SF Board

of Supervisors for the project, a showdown at City Hall could be looming.


At this point, however, both sides seem to be open to alternatives and are awaiting an

opinion from Planning Department staff.


Two neighborhood groups whose members are concerned about the plan are the Laurel

Heights Merchants’ Association (LHMA) and the Laurel HeightsImprovement

Association (LHIA).


Kathryn Devincenzi, vice president of LHIA, claims the group got more than 800

signatures in opposition to the project from locals, which were submitted

to SF Supervisor Mark Farrell’s office. Voice-mail and e-mail messages left for Farrell and

his staff seeking comment were not returned as of press time.


“Retail is having difficulty surviving and some of the merchants over at Laurel Village

have told me that since Target opened on Geary Boulevard their business has dropped

off,” said Devincenzi. “So, one of the reasons that we oppose a change to retail is that we

don’t want to compromise Laurel Village; it’s a lovely little neighborhood shopping

center and serves many, many neighborhood people who stop on their way home

from work. It’s very safe. We have the elderly walk there in safety and we have a couple

of grocery markets. They have quality goods and they take care of their workers, and so

we want to try to keep them in existence.”


Senior vice president and director of development for the Prado Group, Don Bragg, is

lead manager for the project.


“Our approach has always been to add to and complement the existing retail uses at

Laurel Village, and we aim to work with the community and Laurel Village merchants to

accomplish this,” the Prado Group said in an e-mail. “The retail plan (presented in June)

shows how we would like to divide the spaces on California Street to accommodate

smaller shops and a range of family-friendly neighborhood retail that can add uses that

do not currently serve this neighborhood.


“We do not have any specific retailers for the project. When the time is right to

commence seeking tenants, we will work with the neighborhood and local merchants to

determine the ideal uses for the neighborhood,” the Prado statement continued. “Our

goal will be to attract a mix of local-serving retail to complement the retail uses that are

already available in the neighborhood. All of our planned spaces are for small businesses

and average approximately 2,000 square feet, similar to Laurel Village. Our largest space

on California Street is approximately  6,600 square feet and is further divisible. By

comparison, Bryan’s is approximately 8,000 square feet and Cal-Mart is approximately

11,000 square feet.”


But that is just one issue among several that Devincenzi says local residents are worried



“We’re concerned that the development will have adverse impacts on the neighborhood

in terms of traffic, parking overflow, noise, air quality, shadows and other things. Also,

(Prado) wants to add two to three stories onto the main building,” Devincenzi said.


The Prado Group says it is doing everything according to current zoning at the site, but it

recognizes that a change in zoning could change development options.


“We have requested 895 parking spots. We have requested the city maximum allowable

under the zoning plus an additional 60 public parking spaces. These parking requests are

subject to city approval ….


“With the changing transportation landscape in mind, the project also has several

designated pick-up/drop-off vehicle zones, which can accommodate ride-sharing services

(like Uber and Lyft) safely and efficiently. Our current plan places all the retail delivery

spaces, waste and recycling pick-up underground,” the Prado statement said.


But Devincenzi urged the development of housing at the site.


“We need housing, not retail, especially at that location, which is right next to Laurel

Village,” Devincenzi said.


According to state Resolution 4109, which has been around since 1953, the rezoning of

the property just a notch or two up from the basic residential would allow for a project

with up to 744 residential units.


“As part of the commercial rezoning, the resolution imposed certain conditions,

including limitations on the density of residential development along a portion

of the western and southern perimeters of the property,” the Prado Group said.


“The design that was presented … proposed 558 homes, is consistent with the number of

homes allowed under the RM-1 zoning. As such, the proposed base application does not

take advantage of the increase in density allowed under a Planned Unit Development

(PUD) designation.


“However, an EIR alternate was requested by the City at the PUD density of

approximately 744 units. In response to the City, we developed a senior

housing variant for the environmental review that removes the

49,999 square feet of office (space) and replaces it with 186

senior housing units.”

1 reply »

  1. ” it’s a lovely little neighborhood shopping center” where most groceries are priced 20% above market price as most of the clientele are “elderly [who] walk there in safety”. I welcome any commercial space that can make those stores take a cut on their profits, as it should be in a functioning economy.


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