It could be a while longer before Dolores Park visitors get the renovated park they’ve been dreaming about. The Dolores Park Rehabilitation Project, which includes plans for new bathrooms, pathways and a multi-use building, is behind schedule and may not even go forward as agreed upon by the community.
Delays have popped up in the timeline presented last spring, in part because an environmental review study has taken longer than expected.
In March of this year, project architects from the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department announced at a community meeting that a draft environmental review would be released in May, with the final version due out in August.
The purpose of the review, which is required under the California Environmental Quality Act before renovations can move forward, is to identify the project’s potential environmental impacts and evaluate the site’s historic resources.
As of today, no draft has been released.
Wade Wietgrefe, an environmental planner with the city’s Planning Department, would say only that it may be out sometime before the end of the year.
“We are trying to resolve some issues and that factors into our analysis,” said Wietgrefe, later adding that the review process has taken longer than expected.
It’s not clear how the delay will affect construction, which is set to begin in February 2013, said Joanna Linsangan, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco Planning Department.
Some of the issues stem from a study by the consulting firm Page and Turnbull, which was hired by the city to conduct the park’s historic resource evaluation. The final version of the evaluation, released in February, stated that the park is associated with notable events and trends in the city, including relief efforts following the 1906 earthquake and fire, and the evolution of the Mission as a strongly Latino neighborhood.
The report concludes: “Because Mission Dolores Park has been identified as a contributing historic resource in an adopted local survey, as well as an individual historic resource in this study, it is considered to be a historic resource for the purposes of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Any projects which contemplate alterations to the park are therefore subject to review by the San Francisco Planning Department…”
The firm’s final report for Recreation and Park, on the impacts of the proposed renovations on the park’s historic resources, was released on June 1 and obtained by Mission Local in August. It recommended significant changes to the proposed design to keep the park’s historical nature intact, including removing service vehicle paths and redesigning the restrooms.
The analysis determined that particular components of the project “will each cause impacts that result in substantial adverse change to a historic resource.”
The report listed 19 alterations in the renovation plan that would impact the park’s distinctive features, including the construction of new paths, buildings and structures, affecting 36,721 square feet of land; alterations to the topography in numerous areas throughout the park; and the demolition of the park’s oldest and sole surviving historic building.
In order to reduce the project’s impact to a “less-than-significant level,” the report recommended seven mitigations: removing, relocating or reducing in size the maintenance operations building and service yard; removing the service vehicle access road; removing the service vehicle/ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) path that bisects the tennis courts; preserving the MUNI passenger platforms and stairs at 19th Street; preserving the wall at the eastern end of the 19th Street MUNI pedestrian bridge; redesigning the south restroom to minimize topographical impacts; and reducing paved improvements, like the new picnic areas and ADA/vehicle paths, to preserve open space.
Many of the renovations that the report recommended be scrapped or changed had been agreed upon by the community in more than 50 public meetings, including workshops and open-forum discussions. The consulting firm did not recommend changing other elements of the renovation plan, such as an alteration to the Mexican Liberty Bell, the paving of triangular corners at the park entrances, and the alteration of the park’s entrances at 18th and Dolores and 18th and Church.
Although the Page and Turnbull report is labeled final, in the eyes of the Planning Department it is not. The firm’s analysis is based on design renderings it received between December 2011 and April 2012; since then, the parks department has made slight changes to the plans, partly in response to a San Francisco Arts Commission Civic Design Committee meeting that occurred in March.
Page and Turnbull did not have these changes before the June 1 report was issued, so its analysis was not performed on the final design plans. Most of the changes in the final plan are to the southern restroom.
The city has hired a third-party consultant to conduct a peer review of the report, to see if its findings are still valid, said Wietgrefe.
Once that report is completed, the city’s various departments will try to mitigate any impacts to the park’s historic nature.
“We can reduce impact in ways that don’t have to come from the [Page and Turnbull] report,” said Wietgrefe. “Rec and Park can suggest ideas, the Planning Department can come up with others.”
In drafting the environmental review, Wietgrefe anticipates a “mitigated negative declaration,” meaning a finding of no significant environmental impact.
“If any significant environmental impacts are found, we would in the document write mitigations in the mitigated negative declaration to reduce impacts,” he said.
Once a version of the draft environmental review is released, the public will have a 45-day period to comment by letter and email. Before the project can continue, the city must address every comment and then release the final environmental study.
The rehabilitation plan, which is the last to be funded by a 2008 Park Bond, has gone through at least seven steering committee meetings and six workshops with as many as 100 attendees voicing their opinions.
In the meantime, the project is moving forward with the Arts Commission, which approved phase two – including design elements such as color for the restrooms and plaza spaces — in April, according to Arts Commission spokeswoman Vicky Knoop. Phase three, which is mostly a review of construction documents, will be finalized once the environmental review process is complete.
As for the project’s overall scheduling, parks department spokeswoman Connie Chan wrote in an email: “The project is going forward as planned and communicated to the public during our community outreach meetings. [For] this project, like all our capital improvement projects, the projected time line is an estimate and subject to change.”