Forest City Continues to Plan Pier 70 Mega Project

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Last month, the San Francisco Planning Commission held a hearing to solicit public comments on a draft environmental impact report, published in December, for one of the City’s biggest development projects, underway at Pier 70.  The EIR found that potential environmental impacts could be mitigated to “less than a significant level.”

“This is the intense part of the process, when environmental issues are being examined and resolved, including traffic issues that will be a challenge for Third Street,” said Art Agnos, former mayor and Connecticut Street resident. “It’s one of the most progressive developments in the history of this City, promising to enhance a virtually abandoned industrial area that can’t contribute to the community in its current condition.  But there are challenges.”

According to Agnos, Forest City’s project is one of several contributing rapid growth in Southside San Francisco, including steady expansion of the University of California, San Francisco-Mission Bay campus, the San Francisco Giant’s Mission Rock project, and Orton Development’s Pier 70 historic core rehabilitation. Agnos emphasized that impact fees and tax revenues generated by these developments need to be effectively invested to address pressure on public transit and traffic congestion. He said that Mayor Ed Lee should provide more leadership in coordinating the large-scale developments, and create a state-of-the-art traffic management plan for Southside. Last year, City’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development released the Southern Bayfront Strategy, a step towards the formation an overarching framework for housing, transportation and infrastructure in the area.

Forest City has been working on plans for its proposed development for more than a decade.  The developer reached a milestone in 2014, when nearly 73 percent of San Francisco voters approved Proposition F, which allowed Pier 70 building height limits to be increased from 40 feet to 90 feet. Increased heights were tied to the project’s community benefits, most notably designating 30 percent of housing units as affordable for middle and low income residents, creating publicly accessible waterfront open space, and redeveloping existing structures for manufacturing and artisan uses. Despite the measure’s landslide passage, Dogpatch and Potrero Hill residents are opposed to the height increase.

Pier 70 spans 69 acres along the Central Waterfront. On a 28-acre site, Forest City proposes to construct multiple buildings consisting of 2,150 residential units, about one million square feet of commercial office space; and 445,000 square feet of retail, light industrial and artist’s studios. The exact number of residential units hasn’t yet been solidified; it could be reduced to allow for additional office space. Final determination of the residential component’s size is largely dependent on planning decisions made for the adjacent 21-acre former Potrero Power Plant due to zoning restrictions.

Forest City’s project is one of three located on the pier, including the Port of San Francisco’s Crane Cove Park and redevelopment of several historic office and industrial buildings by Orton Development. BAE Systems runs a ship repair facility at Pier 70.

“We love to work with communities on transformative large urban mixed-use projects,” said Jack Sylvan, vice president, Forest City. “Pier 70 offers an incomparable canvass of industrial history, the diverse culture of the Dogpatch neighborhood, and an expansive waterfront location, which makes this location extraordinarily unique. Pier 70 provides a fantastic opportunity to revitalize a fenced-off portion of the City’s waterfront in a way that provides tremendous community, civic and placemaking value.”

In addition to a variety of uses, plans call for rehabilitating historic structures and adding amenities, such as waterfront parks, a playground, market square and gathering spaces along 1,380 feet of shoreline. The project’s buildings would be setback 100 feet from the Bayfront and vary from 50 to 90 feet in height, with shorter structures situated closer to the water.

Streets throughout the development are designed to be friendly to pedestrians, bicycles and transit. A Pier 70 shuttle service would connect workers and residents with public transportation, bike-sharing locations and car-sharing services. Infrastructure to address expected sea level rise and earthquake risks would be installed.

“We’re paying for improvements that would protect buildings against the high-end of projected 2100 sea-level-rise estimates established by the state,” stated Sylvan. “We achieve this by raising the grade of the entire site to elevate buildings and ensure that utilities function properly. With these improvements, Pier 70 can coexist with higher tides and storm surges. Many of these protections will be part of creative designs that maximize shoreline access for public use.”

The San Francisco Port Commission, Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors are reviewing the project, with decisions from each of these bodies anticipated by the end this year. If approved, construction will span about 11 years, with the first phase delivering park space, affordable housing, retail and historic building rehabilitation.

At the Planning Commission hearing, some community members supported the project; others had concerns about its neighborhood impacts. A prominent worry was that the influx of so many new residents and workers to the area will overload infrastructure, like Muni, roads, and parks. While the project offers an abundance of open space, recreational programming geared for residents of the new development hasn’t been created.  If it’s inadequate, pressure could be placed on sports fields at nearby Jackson Park. 

Although Forest City is developing the waterfront open space, the parkland will be owned by the City. Under California’s McAteer-Petric Act, enacted in 1965, San Francisco’s Bayfront must be preserved for public “water-oriented-uses,” which prohibits an array of structures, including tennis and basketball courts. Under current plans what remains of Irish Hill will be preserved, with an adjacent children’s playground installed, but specific sports and recreational programming haven’t yet been determined.

Planning Commissioners suggested that such programming be implemented early in the development process, and that further study be conducted to determine how public transit can be bolstered to accommodate growth. Residents supported the developer’s plans to provide affordable space for artists in a City where many have been displaced, and appreciated that the project would provide housing, as well as jobs. Agnos remarked that the amount of community investment incorporated into the project through the high allotment of affordable housing, publicly accessible spaces and artists’ studio space is unprecedented in modern San Francisco planning history.

A recurring complaint was that project’s heights and scale would block views, including that of Irish Hill near 22nd Street and Illinois Avenue. In an attempt to assuage concerns about heights, the development team created “before” and “after” simulations of view corridors for 20th at Mississippi Street, 22nd at Wisconsin Street, and 20th Missouri Street. The simulations suggest little change to current views relative to existing structures, such as a 90-foot building, part of the Pier 70 Union Iron Works Historic District, which’ll be rehabilitated. The staggering of heights between 50 and 90 feet would entail positioning taller structures on lower elevations, to mitigate negative impacts to the view corridor.

Forest City will fund transportation improvements, like shuttle and bike sharing stations, and expects the project to generate $50 million in impact fees to support further municipal transportation infrastructure projects.

“The community’s vision is to create a place that’s a natural extension of the neighborhood,” Sylvan added. “That means a vibrant waterfront, spaces to do creative things with the arts, design, manufacturing and food, community activities for everyone, and neighborhood services people use every day. A big opportunity at Pier 70 is to open up the waterfront and create access to the Bay where there has not been for more than 100 years.”