Pier 70 Project Moves Forward

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Following San Francisco Port Commission approval in September, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to endorse Forest City’s mixed-use Pier 70 project in late October. The scheme has entailed more than a decade of planning, beginning in 2007 with the Port’s issuance of a master plan for development of 69 acres of historic lands along the Central Waterfront.

Forest City is constructing a 28-acre portion, part of the Pier 70 Special Use District. In addition to the developer’s acreage, the SUD includes 3.4 acres of Port-owned property at Illinois and 20th streets and Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s (PG&E) “Hoedown Yard,” a 3.6-acre parcel at Illinois and 22nd streets.

“Transformative projects like Pier 70 take time, commitment and partnership to create,” said Jack Sylvan, Forest City senior vice president. “…it’s clear that the community feels great about the plans…so many people have worked so hard to shape something special for Pier 70… The Port of San Francisco has also been a great partner in structuring a win-win public private partnership.”

In line with the requirements of Proposition F, passed by almost 73 percent of San Francisco voters in 2014, the project will deliver up to 2,150 residential units, 1.75 million square feet of offices, and up to 445,000 square feet of retail, light industrial and arts space over the next eight to 11 years. Construction is expected to start in February 2018.

“The plans reflect what the community wants in a great new waterfront neighborhood,” Sylvan added. “The project fulfills promises to rehabilitate historic buildings, add parks, build significant affordable housing, and create space for artists, local manufacturing and commercial uses.”

 The development’s total cost is expected to be about $2 billion. Roughly $765 million of public benefits are associated with it, including, under Proposition F, 30 percent on-site affordable housing, a waterfront park, historic building restoration, infrastructure improvements, transportation demand management, workforce programs, preservation of the Noonan Building artist community, and space dedicated to the arts, manufacturing and retail. About $35 million will be directed to Hope SF, an initiative to revitalize public housing at Hunters View, Potrero Annex-Terrace, Sunnyvale and Alice Griffith.

“Pier 70 will be a neighborhood for all San Franciscans,” said Port Commission president Willie Adams. “The project will create more than 500 affordable housing units, job training and 28,000 new jobs, in both construction and for office and retail workers. With its commitment to Local Business Enterprise contract opportunities and local hire, this project represents the City’s values.”

Over the course of Forest City’s numerous meetings with community members, the vision for the project portion encompassing historic Irish Hill shifted to preserve a view of the Hill from Illinois Street. According to Peter Linenthal, Potrero Hill Archives Project director, Irish Hill historically spanned six or seven blocks; a mere remnant remains. He and others gathered more than 200 signatures on a petition to save the view of Irish Hill from Illinois Street.

“The new amended plan is terrific, I’m really pleased,” Linenthal commented. “They didn’t really understand how significant Irish Hill was. Their attention was on the historic buildings on 20th Street. Irish Hill was overlooked because it’s not initially impressive and people weren’t aware of the history.”

Local historian, Steven Herraiz, explained that between World Wars I and II the land encompassing Irish Hill became progressively flatter; entities such as the United Iron Workers and PG&E would blow up parts of the rock to level the hill for development. Many Irish Hill residents were poor and worked at Pier 70. From his research, Herraiz determined that the most historically relevant view of Irish Hill is from Illinois Street, from which the gradual elevation and shorn face of rock showing that it’d been repeatedly excavated can be seen.

Other landmark hills in the City have also diminished over the years. Rincon Hill no longer has any remarkable elevation, but Herraiz pointed out that much is known about its history through stories and photographs.  “Irish Hill is the only hill in San Francisco that doesn’t have a documented history,” claimed Herraiz. “People have never known much about it because there were poor people living there. After 100 years people are saying that it’s important, which speaks volumes to the importance of Irish Hill’s history today.”

The area around Irish Hill will feature a children’s playground and interpretive history displays, though it’s unclear if Forest City or another entity will develop those elements. Instead of installing signs with old photographs and descriptions, the development team and involved community members are brainstorming creative ways to commemorate the site’s past. Ideas include the use of interpretive murals, play structures evocative of history, and artistic tiles. The Irish Hill playground is one of six publicly accessible outdoor spaces that’ll be incorporated into the Pier 70 Special Use District. Notable among them is the Waterfront Park, which’ll connect with the Bay Trail, and, according to Sylvan, will be a local destination designed to reflect Pier 70’s gritty character. The park will stretch north to south along the Bayfront, with a portion running through the project’s center, between 21st and 22nd streets.

Plans currently show purely commercial uses on the property’s northern boundary, in part because it shares a border with what’s hoped to be an active ship repair yard; offices will provide a buffer between industrial and residential uses. According to Sylvan, the property’s southern end can be dedicated to either commercial or residential activities. The balance between homes and offices is somewhat dependent on future market conditions.  The Potrero Boosters advocated for the upper end of the housing range, to help alleviate shelter shortages and because homes have less transit impacts than commercial buildings.

“More residential helps with traffic and transportation needs for the area,” said J.R. Eppler, Potrero Boosters president. “We’re in a housing crisis, and having a more residentially oriented project will provide more of both affordable and market rate housing. Office space creates the need for more housing. Pier 70 can be part of the solution rather than contribute to the housing shortage.”

In the weeks preceding the Board of Supervisors approval hearing, a compromise was reached that limited the amount of office space that could be built, but that also provided land use flexibility given the adjacent industrial properties and uncertainty regarding if and when those uses would change. The original upper limit for commercial use was 2.3 million square feet, which was reduced to 1.75 million. The compromise was achieved through collaborative efforts by community members, Potrero Boosters, District 10 Supervisor Malia Cohen, Office of Economic and Workforce Development staff, and Forest City.

Sylvan explained that in the planning processes’ early stages it’d taken the Port awhile to become comfortable with having any residential component to the project; that slowly changed due to public support. “They weren’t used to the idea at first,” said Sylvan. “The history of the Port has always been industrial and maritime, and they had concerns about having an existing industrial use next to residential, that’s why the northern end is only office.”

During Forest City’s outreach efforts, concern was expressed about traffic impacts caused by an influx of residents and workers to the area. Forest City’s Pier 70 and the San Francisco Giant’s Mission Rock projects will generate up to $100 million in combined transportation impact fees over the next ten years. San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has committed to spending fee revenues on transportation improvements that’ll benefit the neighborhood, such as adding bus lines, bike connections and pedestrian improvements.  However, no specific commitments have been made; each transportation project will be subject to review under the California Environmental Quality Act.

Examples of possible projects include a new ferry terminal at Mission Bay, additional light rail vehicles for the T-Third Street Muni and new bus routes to better serve Dogpatch, Mission Bay and Potrero Hill.  In addition, a shuttle service will be offered to residents, workers and visitors connecting to transit hubs and bicycle sharing stations. Subsidized transit passes will also be available to residents.

“We’re very appreciative that the $100 million has been reserved for Dogpatch,” said Eppler. “It’s a good faith process, and we’ve come to an agreement much firmer than what we had previously.”