Development

Presidio Heights Building Appeal Jumps Hurdle

By Thomas K. Pendergast

The plan for a new building in Presidio Heights is moving forward, despite a wall of opposition from neighbors and surrounding businesses, thanks to a decision by District 2 Supervisor Catherine Stefani. 

The SF Board of Supervisors rejected an appeal against the Planning Commission’s approval of a four-story, mixed-use building with 18 residential units on the 3600 block of Sacramento Street. It has medical offices on the second floor and commercial space on the ground floor.

The board’s approval, however, came with the addition of 12 new modification conditions to the plan, on the insistence of Stefani, who worked with both sides to come up with a compromise. 

“Earlier on people were concerned that the doctors in this building were going to be displaced. There was a push to allow for medical on the second floor, mostly because medical offices were taking over ground-floor retail space and limiting the number of patrons who were coming to the neighborhood commercial district to shop at traditional retail stores,” Stefani said at the Board meeting on Feb. 12.

“The project sponsor wanted things like another floor of parking. He wanted the building to look different and I’m not too sure that he’s happy with some of the conditions,” Stefani explained. “So, I’m in the wonderful position where I get to make nobody happy.”

The project would demolish two existing medical buildings and an underground parking garage, replacing them with six one-bedroom and 12 two-bedroom residential units, plus 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. 

The building plan was controversial in several ways, from its scale (four stories that required the merging of two lots to accommodate) to its design and the affect its construction will have on local businesses, including a relatively dense concentration of psychotherapist offices and other mental-health facilities. 

At a previous board meeting on Jan. 29, Dr. Evelyn Weiser, an adolescent and adult psychologist whose office is directly across the street from the property, expressed concern about the impact construction will have on her practice. 

“I treat teens and adults with serious levels of depression anxiety, who often have traumatic life histories,” Weiser told the board. “In order to sensitively treat my patients I need an environment free of disturbing vibrations, dust and high levels of jarring noise. And as many have noted already, the parking is already extremely impacted. I’m very concerned that the construction as it is now planned will make it impossible for me and my colleagues to practice our work.”

At that same meeting Roberto Velasquez identified himself as a former property manager for a building on the 3700 block of Sacramento Street and an attorney now serving as legal counsel for that same building. He also questioned the impact that construction would have on the neighborhood, especially if it takes too long.

“What’s two or three years?” Velasquez said. “Well, two or three years is enough to chase many of the people out of the neighborhood and also create a highly strong negative impact upon their patients with mental health issues.

“Also, the restaurants on the block will further suffer. There’s no guarantee that a restaurant and practitioners with reduced income and patients not showing up will survive such an ordeal as the proposed project is,” he said.

The SF Planning Department said it received at least 264 letters opposing the project and 135 letters supporting the project, although this was before Stefani added her 12 modification conditions.

Those modifications include: reducing the profile of the building with a fourth-floor setback approximately three-feet deep by 20 feet wide at the building’s east and west end, and removing the projecting facade cornice at the top of the central portion; restricting medical space on the second floor to no more than 3,500 square feet per tenant; assessing the impact of construction on nearby buildings before, during and after construction; prepare and submit a plan to reduce vibrations; create a noise control plan using temporary barriers, like sound blankets, plus require appropriate noise control technology for construction equipment and trucks, and prepare a noise monitoring program; prepare a dust control plan, including a “shrink wrap” of the building and frequent washing to clear off the dust; protect trees adjacent to the property; provide free parking from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday in the parking lot at Locust and California streets for patrons and clients of businesses on the 3600 block of Sacramento; limit the amount of construction equipment on the site at the same time; limit the construction hours from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday, with Saturdays limited to “interior only” work; hire a construction management firm or community liaison to address community concerns; and provide temporary office space for the therapists who regularly see patients on the 3600 block of Sacramento Street. 

Alex Thompson, a resident of nearby Locust Street, filed the appeal. 

“We got a lot of good mitigation measures that will hopefully help but we were trying to reduce the parking to a single level because that would reduce the amount of excavation,” Thompson said, after the Feb. 12 hearing. “We did not get what we had hoped for and the modifications to the building are minor at best. The mitigation measures, I think, are potentially helpful, especially if they’re well executed. But we will have to stay on top of it.

  “In the end we didn’t get everything that we hoped for and we thought we were offering reasonable solutions,” Thompson said.

 “I think Supervisor Stefani has crafted a very nuanced, good compromise,” District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin said. “You always know that that is true when both the appellant and project sponsor are unhappy.” 

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