Park OK & $4 Million Deal Starts Housing Debate

The parking lot currently on 17th and Folsom Streets will be turned into a park and a undetermined project by the Mayor's Office of Housing.

The parking lot currently on 17th and Folsom Streets will be turned into a park and a undetermined project by the Mayor's Office of Housing.

After a new park had been secured for a lot at 17th and Folsom, the residents who crowded into a room at the Land Use and Economic Development Committee meeting on Monday turned their attention to housing. Most supported affordable housing, while District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener raised the possibility of middle-class housing.

“I’m hoping that with this park will come the affordable housing, because there is such a screaming need for real affordable housing in San Francisco,” said Iris Biblowitz, a nurse and 35-year resident of the Mission District who echoed the hopes of many in the audience.

Wiener, however, had a different idea. “As our city produces, not enough, but a fair amount of lower-income housing and plenty of market-rate housing, we need to make sure that we’re not leaving our middle class and our moderate-income folks behind.”

Just what that would mean is not clear. In San Francisco, one of the most expensive real estate markets in the United States, it’s often middle-class buyers who qualify for affordable housing prices.

Olson Lee, director of the Mayor’s Office of Housing, said his office would meet with the Board of Supervisors in November to discuss middle-class housing options, but said they were were unsure what it would mean to build moderate-income housing.

The committee’s official business on Monday was to approve the transfer of land at 17th and Folsom streets from its current owner, the Public Utilities Commission, to its new owners, the Recreation and Park Department and the Mayor’s Department of Housing.

More than 15 residents spoke in support of the park, which is a done deal. They also called on housing officials to use the other, smaller portion of the lot to build affordable housing. The latter is still up in the air.

“At this point in the process we’re not committed to one particular project,” said Lee, keeping the housing office’s options open. “We want to study it. We haven’t made any definitive decision as to whether we’ll use the land for housing or another community development use.”

Rec and Park will pay $2.3 million for 31,578 square feet of the parcel, while the housing office is paying $4 million, or about $138 per square foot, for 29,075 square feet. The difference, Lee said, is that once a parcel is rezoned for housing it has more value as a residential parcel than a public parcel.

In comparison, the San Francisco Planning Department values a vacant lot at 793 South Van Ness Avenue at about $144 per square foot.

The housing office will have a better idea of its plan for the plot by the time it starts paying off the property, Lee said. If it chooses to use the land to build an affordable housing project, the housing office could use funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Lee said he did not expect his office to make a decision on how to develop the land for a while. However, once the transfer of property is approved, the housing office must pay $1.5 million immediately and the other $2.5 million at any time within the 2012-2013 fiscal year.

Rec and Park will build a park on its portion of the land, on half of what is now a paid parking lot that runs from Shotwell to Folsom streets. The park will take up the strip that fronts 17th Street. The parking lot will remain open until construction begins on the park, which will be in the fall of 2012 at the earliest.

Currently the neighborhood, zoned for light industrial use, has only .36 acres of open space per 1,000 residents, compared to the city’s average of 6.7 acres of open space per 1,000 residents.

Developer fees will pay for the parcel and maintain the park for the first three years. A $2.7 million state grant will be used to build the park.

“This is a proud moment, where something that was envisioned 10 years ago, we’re actually beginning to realize,” said Oscar Grande of PODER, a Mission nonprofit advocating for the park. “It’s actually something that we’re living and breathing that our kids will be able to enjoy the fruits of our labor.”

While none of the more than 15 people who spoke at the meeting objected to the park, earlier concerns about losing parking spaces remained.

“ODC acknowledges the important contribution that this park will bring to our neighborhood, but we request the cooperation of city policy-makers to mitigate the impact of the loss of the parking on 17th Street,” said Carlos Lopez, finance associate of ODC Theater, which is across the street from the parcel.

Karen Mauney-Brodek, the city’s parks project manager, said her office had met with businesses in the area, including ODC, and was working with the Municipal Transit Authority to improve transportation and increase parking availability over time as the parking lot becomes unavailable.

“From our standpoint, parking is important, but we view housing or a community development project of some sort as superior for this particular site,” Lee said.

The park proposal must still be formally approved by the supervisors, who will review it on Sept. 27. But because it passed the committee without any objection, it is unlikely that the board would not approve it.

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