Proposed Teardown on Texas Street Draws Opposition

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A proposal to demolish a Victorian and replace it with a larger modern home at 249 Texas Street has drawn the ire of neighbors.

Kerry Shapiro and Joanne Siu purchased the Texas Street property in 2019 for $1.6 million. They’re planning to live in the newly customized home with their daughter and Siu’s 81-year-old mother. While the building would be the same three stories over a garage as the Victorian, it’d be 29 percent roomier, with 1,263 additional square feet. It’d rise four and a half feet higher, with a rectangular shape and roof deck added.

Existing Victorian at 249 Texas Street. Image: from application filed with Planning Department
Proposed design for a larger home (tree made transparent to show exterior). Image: from application filed with Planning Department

That height and shape concerns immediate neighbors. Like the existing building, adjacent downslope homes have pitched roofs. Sasha Gala, who has rented next door for nine years, said those afford “democratic access to air, light and privacy.”

Her rental unit has skylights in the bedroom, bathroom and office, and a side window that faces the Victorian. “They are all going to be impacted by this build,” she said. The ample light is one of the reasons she rented the apartment. The remodeled home would feature a third-floor deck, in addition to the roof level, that’d be above her skylights.

Upslope, at 251 Texas, building owner Kathleen Block is concerned that the value of her four rental units would drop. While Block’s building is also rectangular, she feels it shouldn’t be used to set a precedent as it’s not characteristic of the rest of the street. Her grandfather built it in the 1950s to house four families. He was able to provide sunlight to the units because of the Victorian next door. 

“Those two buildings just work together,” she said, whereas the new one is “going to come right up to my building. The equitable use of air, light and sky should be factored into anything the planners decide on.”

The Planning Department received written concerns from five neighbors. Fifteen attended a telephonic Planning Commission conditional use hearing on the project in March.

The matter is scheduled to come before the Commission again on June 3 for Discretionary Review, a process automatically triggered when a residential demolition is proposed. Among criteria for approval is whether the project preserves existing and affordable housing. Since Siu and Shapiro have proposed a separate garage-level studio apartment, the Planning Department is recommending that the Commission approve it based on the new building having two units rather than one, increasing the City’s housing supply.

That particular feature delayed the hearing from an earlier scheduled date after opponents pointed out that the existing building has a second unit at the garage level, one that wasn’t disclosed in the demolition proposal. Although it’s an illegal apartment, neighbors said several tenants have resided there until Shapiro and Siu bought the home. Municipal records indicate tenancy since 1980. In 2012, the previous owners, who lived upstairs, pulled a permit to remove the unit and adjoin it with the main building but no work was done; it continued to be rented.

“The unit was built without permits, using substandard construction, and in violation of the building codes,” Siu stated in an email to The View, issues that’ll disappear with new construction. The couple has rented to two parties since their purchase, both in the main home. The current tenants are on a short-term lease.

If the Commission approves the project opponents plan to appeal to the Board of Supervisors, an action that’d require signatures from 20 percent of homeowners within 300 feet of the Victorian. They recently held a well-attended backyard gathering.  Gala said several families had similar experiences of larger homes being built that impacted their own.

The neighbors have enlisted the support of the San Francisco Land Use Coalition, which has provided assistance navigating the system, including joining a 75-minute meeting with Planning Director Rich Hillis regarding the approval process. 

“We don’t believe rent control homes should be demolished in favor of luxury housing,” said Coalition co-founder Ozzie Rohm. “Why not legalize the unit instead of demolishing?” 

State law prohibits San Francisco from applying rent control to buildings constructed after 1995. Rohm disagrees with a Planning Department determination that the remodel wouldn’t result in a loss of affordable housing. In endorsing the project, the Department opined that, in addition to the extra unit, the larger home’s greater capacity could potentially contribute to the City’s housing stock.

The Department found the proposal “to be in keeping with the existing development pattern and neighborhood character along Texas Street,” wording that didn’t sit well with opponents. One of the challenges for them is that while communities such as Bernal Heights and Cow Hollow have developed guidelines as to how their neighborhood should look, no such effort has been done in Potrero Hill. The Planning Department’s design committee has no clear-cut rules on which to basis a style evaluation.

“The character is the people who live in these buildings. Working class people that can’t afford to buy homes but want to live in Potrero,” lamented Block. “They are accommodating one building that will reduce the quality of four other units. It should be the other way around. If the general plan is we need to have housing to accommodate people who live in San Francisco then why are they penalizing me?”

The neighbors said it’s been difficult to deal with the City, made worse because many offices are closed due to the pandemic. 

“It has been so challenging to understand and navigate,” said Gala. “And it feels like it’s for show.”

Siu stated that they’re simply creating a home for their family to age in. “We’re not developers; just long-time San Franciscans hoping to build a property to accommodate our family’s needs. We are committed to raising our young daughter in San Francisco.” She added that her husband purchased their current Noe Valley residence in 2006 after renting for more than 20 years.