Major UC 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.


 The University of California, San Francisco Laurel Heights campus has great
views of the downtown and beyond. 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-tosouth 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 Heights Improvement

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 t his 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

divisi ble. 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 about.


“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 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 .”

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