A 450-unit residential development proposed to replace a commercial building at 300 De Haro Street has attracted significant opposition. Potrero Hill residents are upset that the apartments would be microunits, as small as 220 square feet. They’re also concerned about the complex’s size: 120 feet high, with 11 stories.
“This is not housing. It’s lodging for people who will be here temporarily, on their way to a new location. This project takes advantage of Senate Bill 35 to get around the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan. It’s causing those who are frustrated by the original plan the developer shared to dig in deeper,” said J.R. Eppler, president of the Potrero Boosters, a neighborhood association that advocates on behalf of Potrero Hill, Dogpatch, and Showplace Square residents.
Eppler said since the units will be small and expensive per square foot.
“The developer is maximizing rents under the guise of providing affordable housing,” said Eppler.
Katherine Doumani, Dogpatch Neighborhood Association president, described the proposal as “fraud, that is not affordable housing, but in actuality a glorified luxury dormitory, an AirBnB hotel. Even the Planning Department is considering this project an abuse of the legislation meant to promote affordable housing.”
Senate Bill 35, adopted in 2017, mandates that local governments which have failed to build enough affordable housing must approve residential projects that meet legal criteria, including having two-thirds of square footage dedicated to residential use and not demolishing a structure that’s on a national, state, or local historic register.
Alison Heath, a Hill resident, said it’s unfair that the southeastern neighborhoods, particularly Potrero Hill, are being penalized for the Bay Area’s failure to build enough affordable housing.
“We’ve done more than our fair share to provide housing of all kinds in this neighborhood. We shouldn’t be forced to accept this monstrosity. Now the developer is using streamlining mandated by SB 35 to circumvent months and months of community input,” said Heath.
Hill resident Kepa Askenasy said she’d like to know when the Planning Department will standup for what residents agreed to in the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan.
“Why are all the large residential developments in the City concentrated here, rather than in any other area?” said Askenasy.
According to Candace Soohoo, San Francisco Planning Department deputy communications manager, the Department is in the early stages of reviewing the proposal.
“Under SB 35, a local entity is required to provide a ministerial approval process,” said Soohoo.
“Ministerial” means an act that the agency performs without exercising individual judgment.
Soohoo said the City recognizes the need for more housing in all forms, “particularly increasing housing units that are subject to our local inclusionary affordable housing program.”
David Meckel, senior advisor to California College of the Arts President Stephen Beal, said the proposal illustrates the challenges around balancing density, affordability, and unit size.
“(It’s)…trying to fit into some very thoughtful zoning outlined in the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan. That plan envisioned Urban Mixed Use development at a height limit of 68 feet lining the newly improved transit corridor along 16th Street,” said Meckel.
Meckel said he hoped DM Development’s team could work with the Boosters and the Department on the proposal.
“(Then) the building mass and height (would) not overwhelm the neighborhood. The units not so small that they impact the quality of life of the residents,” said Meckel.
Mark MacDonald, DM Development’s chief executive officer, said 181 units, or 40 percent, would be affordable.
“The building we are proposing is not the maximum allowed under the State Density Bonus Program. Instead, the plan optimizes light and air quality for our nearby neighbors on 16th and 17th streets,” said MacDonald.
According to MacDonald, two years of discussion with residents sparked feedback requesting that it increase affordability to 30 percent or greater, along with concerns about the project’s height and bulk.
“We decided that the best way forward was to lean into the City’s need for affordable housing and to pursue a beautifully designed project that can provide the maximum amount of affordable housing, double what would be possible under the base zoning,” said MacDonald. “It is imperative to use all the tools available to add homes to the City.”
Corey Smith, Housing Action Coalition’s deputy director, personally supports the project, though the nonprofit hasn’t taken a position.
“We believe there’s a shortage of all different kinds of homes in the City. A proposal like this might not be perfect for everyone, but it’s a good solution for certain types of residents. For example, young graduates taking their first position or older adults whose children have moved out and for whom downsizing is ideal,” said Smith.
The triangular property at 300 De Haro Street is owned by Four G Enterprises, a limited liability company located at a Marina District residence. According to Property Shark, a property records database, the 300 De Haro Street complex and the Marina home are owned by Gail Godyne.
A number of small businesses rent space at the existing complex, including Bunn Mike, a Vietnamese sandwich shop, El Sur, an Argentinian empanada restaurant, Roadster, an auto dealership storefront, and Tip Toes Nail Salon.
MacDonald said DM Development has worked closely with existing tenants to craft temporary and/or permanent relocation plans, with some potentially returning to the site after construction is completed.
“The project proposes approximately 3,582 square feet of retail space along 16th Street and De Haro Street. We are still in the planning process and look forward to working with the community to identify desired neighborhood-serving retail uses,” said MacDonald.
According to MacDonald, the project will generate approximately $11.5 million in impact fees, including a $3.8 million inclusionary housing fee to finance off-site affordable residences, a $2.7 million Eastern Neighborhoods infrastructure fee, part of which’ll fund Jackson Square park improvements, and more than $5 million in childcare, school, and transportation fees.
DM Development’s plan also calls for the creation of a 7,000 square foot rear yard to provide greenspace.
“We envision a lushly landscaped rear yard that will be a visual amenity to our neighbors and a place for quiet enjoyment by our building residents,” said MacDonald.
There are several rail history remnants at the site, including an abandoned railroad track and two rail cars which’ve been refurbished and rented as office space.
MacDonald said DM Development has been considering possible ways to reuse the rail cars. They could be integrated into the project or made part of a public space for community use.
Bob Towar, treasurer and communications director for the Bay Area Electric Railroad Association, a group of Bay Area rail fans, said the line at 300 De Haro Street was a branch line of the Western Pacific railroad, which served Potrero Hill.
“The area northwest of Potrero Hill was accessed by a tunnel. The north tunnel portal was just south of 18th Street, near Arkansas Street. The south portal was near Sierra Street and Missouri Streets,” said Towar.
A fire in the tunnel in 1962 rendered it unusable, prompting the railroad to abandon and seal it.
There’s disagreement about the two rail cars’ affiliation. Jim Bunger, manager of passenger cars for the Golden Gate Railroad Museum, a railroad history museum in Redwood City, has information that indicates one rail car was associated with the New York Central 60 line. The other was linked with Seaboard Air Line 6602.
Towar believes one is a lounge car from the famous “California Zephyr” trains that used to run daily between Oakland and Chicago, before Amtrak was formed.
Peter Linenthal, Potrero Hill Archive Project director, said Western Pacific built the line to challenge the financial dominance of Southern Pacific Railroad. In the early 1900s, Southern Pacific controlled many of trains and tracks in San Francisco.
“I would like to see the track be saved. They should have a historical marker placed near them to explain their importance,” said Linenthal.
Chris Carlsson, a historian and independent tour guide, said San Francisco’s railroad history needs to be preserved.
“When we think of train history, it’s mostly Muni that gets preserved. (That’s) thanks to the Market Street Railway folks, who are great. Yet all through the Mission, Potrero Hill, the Bernal Cut, Bayview and Islais Creek basins, the remnants of rail lines showcase how trains long brought people and raw materials from shoreline depots. They also brought them from inland train lines to San Francisco’s once robust manufacturing sector,” said Carlsson.
Elizabeth Creely, an occasional contributor to Mission Local, a Mission-oriented news site, said she’d like to see the 300 De Haro Street rail line become part of a network of railroad greenspaces.
“Greenspaces provide relief from cement. Old railroad right of ways also invite people to trace the City’s history on foot by walking between neighborhoods,” said Creely.
Tamara Aparton, San Francisco Parks and Recreation spokesperson, said the City is working to reference railway history through embedded rail in a walkway in Juri Commons, a mini-park at Guerrero Street near San Jose Avenue, 25th Street, and 26th Street. Juri Commons is an old railroad right of way. Aparton said Juri Commons is also home to a mural with a train on it.
“We are planning to refurbish it a bit and leave it in place,” said Aparton.
Image (top): 300 De Haro Street. Rendering: Courtesy of DM Development