A major infill development planned for the vacant lot at 15th and South Van Ness Avenue may run into a roadblock at next Thursday’s meeting of the Planning Commission, if local opposition has its way.
The project — a $21 million mixed-use development orchestrated by San Francisco-based JS Sullivan Development — includes 38 market-rate residential units, 7 affordable housing units, 5 commercial retail spaces and 39 underground parking stalls. It would occupy 1501 15th Street, which is currently a vacant lot.
Once the Planning Commission signs off on the project, it is expected to break ground in the first quarter of 2012, Sean Sullivan, managing partner at JS Sullivan Development, told the audience.
Among the objections from the crowd of about 20 community members: the amount of parking (too much), the amount of community input (too little), the height of the building (at 58 feet, too tall) and the development itself (ugly).
Also on the roster: offense at not having heard about the project — which has been in the works for two years — until a week ago. “How can this go to Planning when a lot of us, including myself, have never heard of the project?” asked one man in the audience, shrugging his shoulders in disbelief. “It’s pretty outrageous. A major project like this and you’re only having a community meeting a week before the Planning Commission votes on it?”
Rauch Graffis of the United Taxi Workers, on 16th Street, echoed the sentiment.
“My office is a block away from here and this is my first time hearing about it,” she said. “This is our community. We care about it. Some of us have lived and worked here for close to 20 years.”
Sullivan assured the crowd that many flyers were passed out to neighboring businesses and homeowners weeks in advance of the meeting.
Graffis looked at the colorful renderings of the proposed building and winced. “If I was living in Stockholm, I’d love this thing,” she said, adding that here it was out of character with the neighborhood.
The building, a five-story structure designed by Natoma Architects, has a modernist design that is perhaps best summed up by the blog Mission Mission’s analysis: “You’ve shopped at the Apple store. Now live in one.”
“Look,” said Neil Kaye, an associate with Natoma Architects. “I am here as the designer. It’s not mandated that we meet with any community members. The block meets the city’s zoning guidelines for a mixed-use development. We’ve designed a building that will create more commercial space to a corridor that is becoming more pedestrian.”
The project received unanimous approval from the San Francisco Historical Commission a year ago, Kaye added. “As much as I respect your decision, seven design critics saw it differently.”
The discussion shifted to the 39 underground parking spots, and whether having so many was necessary for a site so close to BART and multiple Muni bus lines. Developers of another five-story project at the current site of Spork, at 22nd and Valencia, petitioned the city last year to include no parking spots whatsoever.
“They need to reduce the parking spaces,” said Graffis. “There are 40 dwellings for 39 car slots. We are a block and a half from many transit lines. We don’t need more cars on the street.”
The development’s occupants are likely to take transit to their jobs, said Sullivan. “Just because somebody owns a car, that doesn’t mean they drive it every day.”
The discussion then turned to the building’s 19,000 square feet of retail space. What would people like to see there? A grocery store, a printing shop, a community center, restaurants and cafés were some of the ideas floated by the group.
The meeting was nearly over. Several people made it clear that they planned to come to the Planning Commission meeting on Thursday to discuss matters further.
As they did so, a woman walked into the room. The group turned around to look at her. She pointed at the rendering.
“Is that what’s going up?” she said. “Because that looks ugly.”
The project goes to the San Francisco Planning Commission on July 14 for approval. The meeting will be held at noon, in Room 400 of City Hall. The full agenda for the meeting hasn’t been posted yet, but you should be able to find it here early next week.