A family that’s owned land for four generations at the southern tip of San Bruno Avenue wants to build a seven-story housing development utilizing the state Density Bonus Law to gain exemption from City height limitations. Early indications are that neighborhood opposition to the project will be fierce.
San Francisco’s zoning restricts structure heights on the parcel, at 1458 San Bruno Avenue, to 40 feet; the current industrial building on the site is just 15. The Density Bonus allows developers to circumvent local limits, by increasing density by 35 percent and including affordable housing. Under the proposed project 23 of 205 housing units – 122 studios and 83 two-bedrooms – would be reasonably priced. In exchange, the family wants to be allowed to construct two buildings, one six-stories, the other seven, leveling off at 70 feet.
The development proposal is being spearheaded by Chris Goode whose great-grandmother purchased the property. “I’m not a developer. I’ve never developed anything before,” he told neighbors at a pre-application community meeting held last month at the Potrero Neighborhood House. “But the way this lot works was not sustainable. We have to do something different.”
Reaction to the proposal was hostile. While Goode, his 89-year old mother Marilyn, and architect Bob Baum stood alone at the front of the room, 80 neighbors, a dozen of whom spilled into the hallway, barely allowed them to speak. Opposition was instigated by users of the abutting Potrero del Sol Park Community Garden, who had distributed a yellow flyer headlined “Keep the Sol in Potrero Del Sol” in English and Spanish. While gardeners worried about shadows cast on the park, long simmering tensions in the Mission over gentrification and fury over creation of more market rate housing in a City losing middle- and working-class residents quickly boiled to the surface.
“This is a community not a monopoly board,” read one makeshift sign. “Market rate housing = death” read another. Another voiced it as “half of a skyscraper for a residential neighborhood.”
Meeting attendees pointed out that the community garden is one of San Francisco’s oldest, and the building has a long history of housing artists. Currently, 11 commercial tenants rent spaces at 1458 San Bruno Avenue, the most prominent being Tiny Telephone, a recording studio that’s been there for 22 years. A skateboard park – part of Potrero del Sol Park – and Bryant Elementary School are neighbors. “That corner is one of the last vestiges of San Francisco,” said one attendee, Ivy Jeanne.
“It’s ridiculous to propose luxury housing next to a school where students are experiencing homelessness,” added Kristen Panti, a teacher.
Ayesha Khan, a tenant of Goode’s at an adjacent building, said she initially hadn’t planned to speak at the meeting but felt compelled to advise him to “do something that blends so there is not this violent opposition.”
Goode countered that he’d be happy to sell the property for less than the profits he could garner by developing it, but the only interest he’s received over the past four years has come from market rate speculators. He didn’t like their proposals, so decided to create his own project. He said no affordable housing developers have stepped up; the City wasn’t interested when he offered the site for a homeless navigation center; and Recreation and Parks cancelled two meetings with him over the idea of expanding the park. “The City didn’t want it or the battle,” said Goode, indicating that municipal officials won’t talk to him until he secures approval for construction. “The City doesn’t want to get involved,” he said.
While Goode said the parcel’s future is in his hands, the land is co-owned by 11 other extended family members, and he has a responsibility to those who want to get a larger return. The family cannot afford to build all-affordable housing, he explained, and banks prefer to lend him more money for a seven-story development rather than less money for four-stories that won’t generate as much income.
If the development goes through, according to Mary Beth Pudup, volunteer coordinator of the garden, “It will destroy this very precious place. It’s not just about the light. The sun heats the soil. We will lose light and heat.” Pudup was unable to identify any other San Francisco developments utilizing the State Density Bonus Law that impacted both a public park and an open space similar to the garden.
In the preliminary project assessment (PPA) application filed with the Planning Department, Baum’s architectural design shows most of the shading would occur before noon. He said this conforms with the City’s Eastern Neighborhoods Plan and suggested a waiver wouldn’t be needed through the Density Bonus Law over that aspect.
The Density Law is intended as a tool to boost housing stock. Ella Samonsky, the City planner assigned to the project, said waivers over local zoning can be granted only when a developer demonstrates that it’s needed to increase the amount of housing. Samonsky said projects still must go through the usual channels, including a California Environmental Quality Act study and Planning Commission approval.
“The State Density Bonus program does not waive any process. So, if you were required to get any entitlements or approvals before you invoked State Density Bonus you still have to go through all the same processes,” she said.
Neighbors are also concerned about parking, and traffic congestion caused by a large jump in the block’s population. Goode, for personal environmental reasons, has chosen to omit parking from the proposed project.
The amount of affordable housing is also likely to be debated. According to the PPA, 12 percent of affordable units will be at 55 percent of the area median income (AMI) and eight percent at 80 percent AMI, which meets City Planning Code requirements. The AMI for San Francisco is currently $96,000 a year. Several people at the meeting stated that many longtime Mission residents don’t make that kind of money.