Opponents of a Valencia Street condominium and restaurant development in the planning stages since 2007 are gearing up for a final chance to block the project or persuade city officials to scale it back.
Two separate people have filed appeals with the San Francisco Board of Appeals questioning whether plans for 1050 Valencia Street jibe with the city’s general plan.
They will ask the board on Dec. 11 to reverse approval of the development — an approval already granted by the Planning Department, Planning Commission, Historic Preservation Commission and most recently, six of the city’s 11 Board of Supervisors members.
Five supervisors, however, voted against the project this month and although they failed to halt the project, the close vote gave the opposition confidence.
Stephanie Weisman, founder and artistic director of The Marsh Theater, a 12,000-square-foot theater next door to the project site, says in her appeal brief that “As a nonprofit theater, our financial resources are limited; any interruption of our performances, classes, or services due to construction issues will be devastating.”
Alicia Gamez, a Missionite who was active in the recent fight against Jack Spade, has also filed an appeal. Her lawyer, Stephen Williams, writes in the appeal that while more than 400 neighbors and Valencia corridor merchants signed a petition opposing this particular project, they nevertheless support the “concept of the project and the development of the…site into housing and retail under the Mission Area Plan.”
The problem, Williams writes, is that, “The neighbors object to the size, density and design of the proposed building.”
Should the appeals fail, the opposing neighbors said it’s likely a lawsuit will be the next step in their efforts to forestall developer Shizuo Holdings’ bulldozers and jackhammers from breaking ground on the proposed 16,182-gross-square-foot building.
“This is another piece of gentrification,” said Williams, who also represented the Liberty Hill Neighborhood Association at a Nov. 5 hearing before the Board of Supervisors opposing the project. “This is in-your-face gentrification, luxury condos, 12 of them on a very, very small parcel.”
The Dec. 11 hearing comes at a time when city leaders are searching for ways to slow the diminishing stock of affordable housing — a key component of the general plan. Any project over 10 units must set aside 12 percent of the units for on-site affordable housing, build it elsewhere, or pay a fee to the city’s affordable housing fund.
“As of now, we will be providing two on-site affordable units…one two-bedroom and one one-bedroom,” said developer Mark Rutherford. “[Below market rates] requirements for new developments are part of the quid pro quo of the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan, wherein developers are allowed greater density and height in exchange for providing BMRs at cost.”
Rutherford said he won’t know if and when demolition and construction might begin until after the December hearing “where the same issues will be heard for what will now be the sixth time,” Rutherford wrote in an email.
On Nov. 5, the Board of Supervisors narrowly upheld the Planning Department’s 2012 approval of the project. Supervisors rejected the neighborhood association’s appeal that argued environmental documents approved in 2010 were flawed and inadequate.
The decision came after a lengthy public comment period during which 50 residents, local business owners and supporters of the neighboring Marsh Theater voiced their opposition.
“This development needs to be scaled down. If it was smaller, if it wasn’t five stories, if it wasn’t 12 units, if it wasn’t filling the lot within three inches of either neighbor and having its outdoor spaces right up against those two neighbors,” there would be more support for the project, said Liberty Hill association member and former president Risa Teitelbaum outside the packed chamber.
Scaled back since the original design was submitted to the city for approval, the project calls for the demolition of an existing 1970 building, currently home to Sugoi Sushi. For years a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise held the spot, followed by Spork Restaurant and the Rice Broker.
The developer plans to build a five-story-with-basement structure on the 3,315 square-foot lot, according to the latest planning documents. Ten market-rate residential units will go up over a street-level restaurant and there are no parking spaces for cars, a major bone of contention with opponents. Instead, the proposed building features 24 bicycle parking spaces.
Although the zoning requires no parking spaces, neighbors argue that future tenants will apply for residential parking permits, leading to another 12 to 24 cars vying with existing residents for limited street parking.
“People who are affluent, paying these kinds of prices will own cars,” said Teitlebaum, referring to the expected selling price of the 1050 Valencia condos.
Teitlebaum added that the project was originally billed as rental units.
In addition, neighbors oppose the size of the proposed building.
Business owner and Valencia Street resident Fran Cavanaugh, told supervisors in November, “We believe that having a very large structure that doesn’t give courtesy to its neighbors in its massing and height will change [the street’s current] character and make it more difficult for business owners to survive.”
In response, Rutherford told the Appeals Board that after he met with the Planning Department’s Urban Design Team in June 2011, the city “issued a list of recommendations on massing, site design, street frontage and architecture.” A redesign of the project “adopted all” of those recommendations, he said.
The developer added, “There are at least 10 four and five-story buildings within a two-block radius of the project site.”
Many of the public comments during the Nov. 5 hearing came from staff or patrons of The Marsh Theater. Their concerns revolve around construction disrupting daytime classes and nighttime productions.
“We are concerned that the developer, although encouraged to address our concerns, faces no consequences if they do not address pertinent issues,” Weisman said in her appeal. “Their actions thus far do not lead us to believe that the developer can be trusted to act in good faith…”
In an email on Thursday, Rutherford wrote, “The Marsh and its supporters are justifiably apprehensive about construction next door, but we are confident that with common sense construction practices and the safeguards put in place by the Planning Commission, this project will come off with a minimum of disruption…”
But trust among the residents appeared lacking. Mission resident Diana Rathbone wrote to the Planning Commission in Aug. 2012 that she has lived in the neighborhood for more than 25 years but “never, in all that time, to my memory, has a developer or entrepreneur thumbed its nose at us in this way or built something so totally out of touch with our character.”