by Thomas K. Pendergast
A new building proposed for the 3600 block of Sacramento Street got the green light from the SF Planning Commission in spite of substantial neighborhood opposition, mostly amid concerns about how it will affect nearby businesses.
The project would demolish two existing medical buildings and an underground parking garage, then construct a four-story, mixed-use building with ground- and second-floor commercial spaces. There will be 18 residential units on the top two floors (six one-bedroom and 12 two-bedroom units), along with two levels of underground parking.
None of the residential units will be inclusionary housing, or so-called “affordable,” as the project sponsors have elected to pay an in-lieu fee for the construction of affordable units elsewhere instead.
The ground floor of the new building would contain approximately 6,500 gross square feet of retail commercial space, while the second floor would provide 10,000 gross square feet for medical offices. The residential floors would come out to about 17,100 gross square feet.
While there is support within the neighborhood for the project, it also drew substantial opposition from some local businesses and residents. According to SF Planning Department staff, there were 264 letters filed in opposition and 135 letters in support.
Regardless, the commission granted a Conditional Use Permit, with four votes in favor and commissioners Dennis Richards and Myrna Melgar voting against. Commissioner Kathrin Moore was absent.
“We’re not against development or change. What we are against is the size and scope of this project and the detrimental affect that we believe it will have on the neighborhood and on the merchants in particular,” said Jennifer Kopczynski, one of the neighbors opposed to the project. She said project opponents plan to appeal the commission’s decision.
Dr. Patrick Gannon is a clinical psychologist with a practice on nearby Spruce Street. He is also opposed to the project because of its possible impacts on the small, private practices in the vicinity, especially during the construction period.
“There are 15 therapists in my suite alone,” Gannon said. “I’m not sure the City realizes that this neighborhood is the center of psychotherapy in San Francisco. People are coming in and out for hourly appointments throughout the day. The parking is already very, very difficult. Our clients are complaining; there’s not a lot of paid parking in the area. There’s one parking garage down the street.
“Now you’re going to create a hornet’s nest of activity in the construction phase. You’re going to have a negative effect on all of these businesses and I’m not sure the City understands that.
It’s going to have a tremendously negative impact, plus the noise, plus the dust,” Gannon said. “I’m wondering if it’s sustainable. I don’t think we can accommodate this extra level of population here. The parking is getting worse and worse and people won’t want to come to this neighborhood anymore because they can’t find parking.”
During the Planning Commission hearing, Commissioner Richards said he liked many aspects of the proposal, such as the 18 residential units, the medical offices in an area where there are already well established healthcare facilities and the ground floor retail, but he was also concerned with the size of the project and the impact that it would have on surrounding businesses. Plus, he did not support the merging of two lots in order to create a space big enough for the building.
“I understand where the neighbors are coming from,” Richards said. “We read about construction problems with the Central Subway on Stockton Street. Chinatown folks were going out of business; they asked for hand-outs from the City. On Van Ness, we just had several businesses go out there because of the construction … On Castro Street we had a lot of businesses go out because nobody wanted to go there. There was nowhere to park. There was so much construction going on.”
Scott Emblidge is an attorney representing the project sponsor. He responded during the hearing.
“The reason for the lot merger is to create a space that gives you 18 residential units and gives you workable medical/dental space,” Emblidge said. “If you break it up into three different buildings it doesn’t work. Even if the developer was willing to do something like that he would lose probably a third of the housing units. There’s no way it can work as three different buildings.”
The project sponsor, Jeffrey Litke, has parking spaces at a building on California Street and he offered free parking for locals during construction.
“We will dedicate this parking to those working at the site, as well as to the neighbors who are inconvenienced and the businesses there for the duration of our construction at no cost to them,” said Litke. “As to the noise, a project with a demolition and excavation can be noisy. We will inform our crews that no demolition or excavation work can begin before 9 a.m. and they must be finished up at day’s end by 4 p.m. We understand that noise in this area is a major concern and we’ll be sensitive to our neighbors’ needs.”
Steven R. Krolik has a business on Locust Street. He opposes additional medical offices in the neighborhood.
“People in the neighborhood really don’t want more medical,” Krolik said. “CPMC (California Pacific Medical Center) is going to be razed next year, that’s down here on California Street, and then we have the other issue with UCSF at 3333 California St., where the Prado Group was suggesting 550 units but the City wants 700-800 units. Everything is getting changed around in this particular neighborhood.”
But, some businesses support the project, including employees of the nearby Cal-Mart market on California Street. One of them is Lam Lee.
“It gets more customers to shop around the store. So, it helps out for us,” Lee said.
The original proposal for parking spaces was pegged at 78, but that was pared down to 63 when the project was modified from three levels of underground parking to two levels of underground parking. There are 18 parking spaces reserved for the residential units and 45 for the retail and medical units.
Richards noted that the overall city policy is trending toward less parking for automobiles in general.