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.
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
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
“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.”