By NOAH BUHAYAR
Community organizers and builders clashed Wednesday night on how much developers should have to pay for infrastructure improvements in the Mission District.
“We built communities when no one wanted to invest in our communities,” said Oscar Grande, a community organizer, referring to the Latino families that have lived in the Mission for several decades.
But several developers from the Residential Builders Association of San Francisco, dressed in blue jeans and polo shirts and wearing BlackBerrys clipped to their belts, protested that a new set of fees to support infrastructure would hurt their business in economically tough times.
“The way the bank conditions are right now, we’re lucky to even make a profit,” John Kerley, a builder, told the three members of the Board of Supervisors Land Use Committee who will send their recommendations to the Board of Supervisors later this year.
The fees are part of the Eastern Neighborhoods Area Plans that will rezone and guide development in the Mission District, East SOMA, Showplace Square/Potrero Hill, and the Central Waterfront.
The plans call for approximately $400 million to pay for neighborhood improvements such as parks, green streets, bike lanes, and better public transit. These would be financed, in part, by charging developers an “impact fee” for expanding existing buildings. The remaining cost would be covered by taxes and grants.
Builders argued that they should not be charged for projects begun before August 30, 2007, when the Planning Commission passed a resolution to impose fees.
Under the current scheme, developers would pay a partial fee on projects started between January 19, 2007—when the Planning Commission first discussed impact fees publicly—and August 30, 2007. All projects started after that date would be subject to the full fee. The Planning Department estimates that the fees will generate $15.1 million for infrastructure.
But Nick Pagoulatos, coordinator for the Mission Anti-displacement Coalition, a community group, said this doesn’t go far enough. Many developers, he argued, made lots of money converting industrial buildings into high-end lofts during the dot-com boom. Now, he said, they should have to contribute to improve the neighborhood—regardless of whether the building market is depressed.
“We want them to pay their fair share of a historical wrong,” he said in an interview. “They can’t claim exceptionality.”
Pagoulatos and two dozen other members of the coalition held a rally outside City Hall before flooding the hearing room to voice their concerns. They called for an amendment that would force builders to pay impact fees for plans submitted after February 12, 2004, when interim zoning changes were proposed for the eastern neighborhoods.
The committee will discuss changes to the plans at additional meetings during the next two weeks before they make their recommendation to the Board of Supervisors.
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