A building project at 3135 24th Street to convert a former auto repair shop into a mixed-use development is set to finish construction in a month and already there is a disagreement about how the retail space should be used.
The project the San Francisco Planning Department approved four years ago envisioned nine units and a collectively-run ground-floor commercial space. The project had a decidedly community feel to it, in part because of its legacy. The former owner Nicolai Porshnikof had been in the neighborhood for 20 years and when he died in 2004, he left it to Vladimir Abramov, a friend down the block who owned La Parrilla Grill.
The proposal Abramov submitted to the Planning Commission in 2009 said the 1,675 square-foot ground- floor commercial space would “be used as a retail collective, encouraging small businesses to establish a retail presence and expand their businesses through flexible leases and low overhead costs.”
“It was supposed to be a kind of incubator-type space for smaller businesses, and local retail,” said President of the Lower 24th Street Merchants and Neighbors Association Erick Arguello, who worked with the original developers on the project. “A kind of a marketplace for small operators. That’s why it was approved by the community.”
But that was four years ago and since then, new owners with new ideas have taken over. The building went into foreclosure in 2010, and two years later, a group of investors named Knickerbocker SF LLC purchased the building for $2.9 million, according to information found in the property’s deed and confirmed by James Nunemacher, a Knickerbocker investor and co-founder of Vanguard Properties. The latter is representing the sale of the building.
Nunemacher described Knickerbocker as “a handful of San Francisco people.” The group now plans to sell the building’s nine condominiums as well as the commercial, ground-floor space, according to Nunemacher.
The nine one to three-bedroom apartments, ranging from 1,000 to 2,000 square feet, will be sold at market rate, Nunemacher said.
Arguello, on behalf of the lower 24th Street merchants, is concerned about the use of the commercial space. “We don’t want more restaurants,” said Arguello, adding that the number of restaurants is over the percentage that is a healthy mix for 24th Street.
“I just hope they respect intent of project—a space for small businesses is supposed to be a part of it.” That, he added, is what the community supported at the time the city planners approved the project.
The Planning Commission unanimously approved the project at a 2009 conditional-use hearing, in part, because of little opposition from the community.
At the time, the community was told that the space would be run by something called the Mission Independent Retail Collective, an organization featuring local merchants.
Arguello said that he feared if a new restaurant moved in it would only be open at night, thereby failing to add to the street’s daytime foot traffic. Moreover, he said, another high-end restaurant could drive up rents without serving many long-term residents.
“We’re going to put in a Starbucks,” said Nunemacher, who made it very clear that he was joking. “Sorry, I just had to say that.”
Nunemacher did acknowledge having conversations with some restaurant owners about the potential use of the space.
“We’ve talked to a lot of people who may be interested in the space, some restaurants and longtime business owners in the Mission,” said Nunemacher, who believes that the ground-floor space is zoned for general commercial use, meaning a restaurant or retail business could move in.
Arguello said that if a restaurant plans on moving into the space, there would have to be a conditional-use hearing. However, Julian Beñales of the Planning Department said that only a restaurant serving alcohol would require a public hearing.
The San Francisco Planning Code has specific rules for what kind of businesses open on 24th Street, stating: “Limitations apply to the development and operation of ground-story full-service restaurants, take-out food and entertainment uses.”
“We would oppose a restaurant,” said Arguello. “We would show up at the conditional-use hearing and we would organize.”