SF Planning Commission

Planning Commission OKs EIR for New Recreation Area at Lake Merced

By Thomas K. Pendergast

With a unanimous vote, the San Francisco Planning Commission approved a final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) aiming to redevelop the old shooting range of the former Pacific Rod and Gun Club at Lake Merced.

According to Planning Department documents, the 11 acres of land between the southwestern part of Lake Merced and John Muir Drive is targeted for a new clubhouse, new boat house and boat storage area, grass sports field, bocce ball lawn, fitness activities, bicycle facilities and rentals, picnic areas and a community garden, a bird watching platform, trails, along with fishing and gardening areas.

There could also be a skate park, full basketball court, playground, community building, terraced patio restaurant and even an arborist facility.

Location of the proposed recreation area at Lake Merced which could include a new boat house, sports field and other new activity areas. Courtesy graphic.

From 1934 to 2015 the land was leased by the gun club, so skeet and trap shooting contaminated the site with lead shot and clay targets. In the Spring of 2016 that was “remediated” by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, although department documents say the additional extraction of residual contamination underneath the former Rifle Range Building is still needed.

Responding to numerous comments from community stakeholders on the design of the Lake Merced West Project, as it is called, the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department requested that the EIR also analyze a variant of the project, which would include a 15,000-square-foot boathouse rather than the 3,000-square-foot boathouse originally planned.

As all other components of the project would remain the same, the environmental impact analysis concluded that no new measure would be required to mitigate the significant impacts identified in the project variant of the larger boathouse.

The current boathouse is located at 1 Harding Rd. and supports five rowing clubs. It was built in 1958 and is a two-level concrete structure with each level approximately 7,600 square feet. It is primarily used as a storage facility for boats and exercise equipment. About 93 boats are now stored in the boathouse.

Presently, five rowing clubs use it: the Dolphin Club, Pacific Rowing Club (PRC), Saint Ignatius High School, San Francisco Rowing Club and San Francisco State University.

District 7 Supervisor Myrna Melgar stated her support for the rowing clubs using the lake.

“The Pacific Rowing Club specifically has been a point of access for underserved youth to get into rowing, which has traditionally been an activity that has been more exclusive because of the expense, you know,” Melgar said. “The current facilities are very neglected. And, in fact, a little bit dangerous.

“So, the opportunity to move things to the other side and to make them have the capacity to serve not just the needs that we currently have, but to grow access to the lake is really, really important.”

Melgar wants to see a larger boat dock and space for more boating.

Others pushed for the larger boathouse facility.

“We would love to be able to provide for as many young people as possible, but at the moment, our current facility at 1 Harding Rd. limits our ability to do so,” Maisy Ballantyne said. “(Rec. and Park) proposed plans for the southeast portion of the Lake Merced West site are inadequate and ignore the major activity at the lake, rowing.

“As Lake Merced is the largest lake in the city of San Francisco, it is so important for these plans to be site-specific, and cater to the activities on the water. Please direct (Rec. & Park) to promptly replace the plans being used by the EIR with ones that incorporate PRC’s and SI’s jointly created vision for the southeast portion of the site. Save taxpayer money and everyone’s time by having the right plans in place the first time through.”

There were quite a few people whose comments also supported a larger boathouse.

“The plans assessed in the EIR need to include a major boathouse with at least 14,000 square feet of boat storage space,” said Robert Blazej. “A cornerstone of this effort is increasing access and engagement for people of color and traditionally underrepresented youth and adults…. The entirety of the southeast portion of Lake Merced West beyond the southern buildings should be committed to rowing-related facilities and operations, and not include arborist facilities.

“A boathouse depends on access to water, whereas an arborist facility does not,” he said. “Include rowing professionals and rowing community leaders in the planning process for the rowing center area and let them lead or direct the layout and design of the boathouse and related facilities.”

Dick Allen, a District 7 resident and a member of the Dolphin Club at Lake Merced, agreed.

“I strongly recommend that the Rec. and Park amend their EIR to include a new boathouse located on the site that is currently being proposed for a tree trimming facility,” Allen said. “Rec. and Park’s current proposal for this building on a waterfront site is a terrible mistake. The proposed site for a tree trimming facility is a perfect location for a new, larger boathouse for water recreation that will provide easy and safe access to the water.

“Rec. and Park needs to amend their EIR that would conform to the 2010 Watershed Report, a well-thought-out plan that took several years to prepare and cost $588,000.”

Emily Koenig, the program director for the PRC, called for more than just a larger boathouse.

“I would like to request a modification to the Lake Merced Draft EIR of the addition of a much larger aquatic center to the lower southeast side, where the former skeet fields were located,” Koenig said. “I think (the PRC) in particular really shares the same objectives as the project and believe that we can fulfill a great portion of them.

“I just want to get rowing into as many people’s lives as possible because I think it’s a very true and honest sport. And I think it can benefit anyone no matter where you come from or who you are.”

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