Photograph by Ed Rudolph

Photograph by Ed Rudolph

The pair of trees on Third Street named Mr. and Mrs. Murray by local schoolchildren.

June 2014

Development to Cut Down Trees, Cast Shadows on Celebrated New Park

Keith Burbank

Birds, animals, and neighbors will miss Mr. and Mrs. Murray if the Planning Commission approves development of 2051 Third Street. Mr. and Mrs. Murray are two trees, so named by local schoolchildren who track their status and health. The trees will be cut down as part of Raintree Partners’ proposal to build 93 rental units in Dogpatch. 

Those opposed to the project hired attorney Steven M. Williams to represent them before the San Francisco Planning Department, claiming that the drawings submitted to the department were inexact. “It was inaccurate by a significant amount,” said planner and preservation technical specialist Doug Vu of the Planning Department. The drawings, called “elevations,” were imprecise relative to the adjacent buildings. Neighbors wanted to know how high the new structures would be compared to their homes. The errors were so significant that the Planning Department required the developer to hold a second pre-application meeting. 

“…the Department will require the sponsor to conduct another pre-application meeting,” Vu wrote in an April email to Williams. In an interview with the View Vu confirmed that Raintree Partners had to hold a second pre-application meeting, a detail Jason Check of Raintree Partners disputed. According to Check, it’s not “technically” a pre-application meeting. 

Check is also not worried about the trees. “I don't have a concern that it [the tree removal] will have an adverse impact should it [the development] move forward,” Check said. Raintree Partners cites safety reasons, among others, for the trees' removal.

According to neighborhood activists, the two trees stand as a green haven in a mostly industrial area. Those opposed to the trees’ removal lost an appeal before the San Francisco Board of Appeals. On June 5 the Planning Commission will vote whether to approve the developer's request for a large project authorization. If the development is approved, chain saws could start buzzing shortly thereafter. 

The trees and height inaccuracies are only two of those opposed to the development’s gripes, which include issues related to light, air, massing, height, shadows, design, and property values. After last month's second pre-application meeting, residents left discouraged because they don't think Raintree Partners is listening to them. However, Raintree has redesigned the project to allow more light and air for adjacent neighbors, in response to a Planning Department suggestion.

Neighbors argue that the design, massing, and height don't fit the location, which is across from The Ramp restaurant. Raintree Partners is merging three lots to build two structures, an activity discouraged by the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan. The two adjacent owner-occupied buildings to the north of 2051 Third Street have 12 units and 15 units. The proposed project would be 68 feet high, the height limit for the lot. 

“It was designed in a vacuum,” said Lori Maak-Ingram, an architect who advocated for residents at last month's meeting. “It wasn't designed to be neighborly,” she told Check. “You can choose to go lower.” But Jonathan Ennis, BDE Architecture, the project's designer, was unfazed by Maak-Ingram's comments. “The environment has changed to support that,” he said of the building height. And though the height limit is 68 feet, stairwells and elevator penthouses could raise parts of the structure to as high as 83 feet under the Planning Code. 

Nearby residents are also dismayed that the new building may cast shadows on the proposed Crane Cove Park, which, if built, will be directly across from the project site. According to the Port of San Francisco’s website, “Crane Cove is set to be one of the most celebrated new parks in the City.” “The proposed park would be under the jurisdiction of the Port of San Francisco, and is therefore not subject to Section 295 of the Planning Code,” wrote Vu in the April email. “Additionally, the proposed Crane Cove Park project has not yet been submitted for either an entitlement application or environmental review and is therefore, for purposes of CEQA, not considered a reasonably foreseeable project which should have been analyzed in the environmental review for 2051 Third Street.” 

Section 295 of the Planning Code regulates buildings more than 40 feet high and applies only to San Francisco Recreation and Park Department land. The proposed park is on Port of San Francisco property. David Beaupre, the Port’s senior waterfront planner, wondered what the fuss is about. The Port had planned to construct a building at the park, and he didn't think the shadows cast by that building would have been significant. 

“Planning Code Section 147 requires reduction of substantial shadow impacts on public plazas and other publically accessible spaces other than those protected under Planning Code Section 295,” states a February 27, 2014 draft Planning Commission motion. This would seem to include Crane Cove Park. Section 147 applies to buildings more than 50 feet in height in C-3, South of Market Mixed Use and Eastern Neighborhoods Mixed Use Districts. According to the Planning Department, the Third Street property is in an Urban Mixed Use district. 

“I have observed the shadow path of the recently built development by Build Inc. located between 18th and 19th,” wrote Topher Delaney, of Delaney + Chin, which has offices at 600 Illinois Street, just north of 2051 Third Street. “The shadow plane clearly covers the entire proposed lawn adjacent to the slipway. This observation was at 6 p.m. on May 15. Crane Cove is slated…for use by a community which has very few green areas. To shade this park countermands the purpose of the park's use.”

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