California College of the Arts Student Housing Approved

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Last month, the San Francisco Planning Commission voted seven to zero to approve California College of the Arts’ (CCA’s) proposed four-story 228-bed student dormitory at 75 Arkansas Street. The endorsement was the culmination of a two-year effort by CCA to site additional student housing near the school’s Eighth Street campus. Construction will begin next spring and take approximately 16 months; the dormitory is expected to open in the fall 2018.

CCA presented the building’s design twice this year to the Potrero Boosters’ general membership and development committee.  The college also met with individual Booster members, and consulted with a CCA student and residential life staff steering group.   According to David Meckel, CCA’s director of campus planning, Friends of Jackson Park (FoJP), the Potrero Dogpatch Merchants Association, Save the Hill, and the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department have been “fantastic” partners.  In response to input from stakeholders, CCA’s architect, Leddy Maytum Stacy (LMS) Architects, continually adjusted the structure’s blueprints.

A key to securing FoJP and Boosters support was provision of a defined benefit to the community.  “We’ve committed to in-kind design and fabrication services for a yet to be described scope that we will help articulate through work with the community and City agencies,” Meckel said.

According to Jude Deckenbach, FoJP executive director, CCA agreed to build a fence, seating or shading for Jackson Park.  Deckenbach also wants the college to support a FoJP initiative to create a parklet on Carolina Street.

According to Meckel, a primary challenge in designing the dormitory was to create a building “in the middle” in terms of architectural design.  “The sites north of 17th Street are big industrial properties. The sites south of 17th are smaller neighborhood residences. We’re trying to match the rhythm of both areas and give the building contemporary nuances,” he said.

J.R. Eppler, Boosters president, said when the Boosters first saw the designs its members felt that the building was too drab. “Everyone thought that because this was student housing for art students, there should be a little more pizzazz, a little more visual interest. We feel that CCA has come a long way in the design,” said Eppler.

Suzanne Brown, principal at Equity Community Builders, the real estate development company managing the project, said LMS Architects integrated a varied roofline and horizontal lap siding into the design. “Instead of the building looking like one giant building, CCA is bringing color, a variety of materials, and bay windows to the project to improve horizontal modulation,” said Brown. “The goal is to make it look like it is smaller buildings all sitting next to one another. The roof line will go up and down along the façade. Also, the middle floors of housing will combine the windows from the second and third floors. A roof cornice will top the building.”

Meckel said the windows will keep the interior naturally ventilated, solar shaded, and energy efficient. The president of the local business supplying the windows, Jeremy Drucker of Blomberg Window Systems, is a CCA architecture alum.

The 48-foot high, 64,339 square foot building will contain 30 units and roughly 228 beds on its top three floors, with 27 four-bedroom units and three two-bedroom units, one per floor, for residential life staff, who will serve as student advisors. Each four or two-bedroom unit group will have two full bathrooms, study areas, a full kitchen, and a large living room. All rooms will have bay windows. “These units are more apartment-style than dormitory-style,” said Meckel. “They will be for those students who like to cook.”

The building’s ground floor will feature 7,400 square feet of retail space on one corner. Brown said Potrero Hill residents and CCA’s students want the area to house a deli selling prepackaged food. The ground floor will also hold a multipurpose room for CCA students, open to community members to reserve at no fee, and storage for approximately 94 bikes. “We are also talking about widening the sidewalk on Arkansas Street for approximately 130 feet and installing benches and landscaping to provide additional public gathering space,” said Brown.

CCA will use the same landscape architect that Martin Building Company employed for the 88 Arkansas development. “Both sides of the streetscape will result in a coordinated, traffic calming gateway to 17th Street and the park,” said Meckel.

Meckel confirmed that the building won’t cast a dark shadow over Jackson Park. When Hill residents initially saw the dormitory plan they were concerned that the structure would darken the park. Equity Community Builders completed a shadow study, and found that the building’s shadow effect will only be present for a short time at around 7 a.m. at the north end of the ball field, an area covered with trees, at the beginning of the summer. The Planning Commission adopted the shadow study findings on October 6.

“Theirs is the lowest-impact development coming in. I think the housing will activate the street more at night,” said Deckenbach.

Candace Soohoo, San Francisco Planning Department deputy communications manager, said the department isn’t concerned about CCA’s plans. “75 Arkansas Street is located in the Urban Mixed Use District. The UMU District is intended to promote a vibrant mix of uses while maintaining the characteristics of the formerly industrial-zoned area,” said Soohoo.

Accordng to Soohoo, the UMU District allows residential and commercial activities. UMU is also intended to serve as a buffer between residential districts to the south and Production, Distribution and Repair (PDR) districts in the Eastern Neighborhoods.  “The Department’s Urban Design Advisory Team has reviewed the design and has considered the context of the proposal within the UMU District. All proposed land uses for 75 Arkansas Street are principally permitted,” said Soohoo.

CCA will lease the entire building as a mixed-use development, including the residential units and ground floor retail space, from CCA trustee Simon Blattner.  Blattner, who bought the property in 1993, said he’s looking forward to helping CCA grow.  “I’ve been on CCA’s board for 20 years. I went to classes there when I was younger, learning how to make paper. I used to play softball in Jackson Park on a pickup team. I think this is a great location. It’s a block and a half from the school. If you’re going to school in the City, it’s really complicated to try and find a place to live. This will make it easier,” said Blattner.

Blattner said the building’s current tenants, Sak’s 5th Avenue and ForaTV, have been given notice about the coming redevelopment. “Two current tenants…will be moving out prior to the start of demolition and new construction,” said Brown.

Once the building is complete, CCA will assume the property’s master lease, with options to buy at key points.  “I’m excited about the opportunity to do something like this in our community. We don’t get so many chances to do something good. This is a win-win for everybody,” said Blattner.