San Francisco developer Prado Group Inc. is seeking city approval for a project to drastically expand the sidewalks at the intersection of Market and Dolores streets.
The project would fulfill the requirement that Prado pay up to $450,000 in impact fees for a nearby 82-unit apartment complex the developer is building at 2001 Market St., atop an existing structure that will become a Whole Foods.
After the city approved construction for the 2001 Market St. project, Prado applied to extend the sidewalks at the intersection, a proposal that is supported by city planners. Neighborhood groups are divided on the plan.
The question, said Kearstin Dischinger, manager of the Planning Department’s Market and Octavia Area Plan, is how make the area a good walking neighborhood.
The city’s answer: bigger sidewalks.
The Planning Department drew up the design for the extensions, or “bulb-outs,” with input from Supervisor Scott Wiener and a neighborhood association, the Market and Octavia Community Advisory Committee, which then voted on it. The most recent design would expand the sidewalks on Dolores Street at Market by 14 feet, with smaller bulb-outs at 14th Street.
The bulb-outs would block one lane on either side of Dolores at Market Street, forcing wider turns and slowing traffic while increasing pedestrian visibility, according to planners.
The sidewalk project barely survived the eight-member Community Advisory Committee’s vote in December 2011. Two members voted against it, two abstained, and because another member was absent, the Committee approved the project with only three out of eight members voting in favor.
The Committee also voted to support “the sponsor’s request for allocating up to $450,000 credit” toward the sidewalk extensions, beyond Prado’s preliminary estimate of $250,000.
The Planning Commission will likely vote on the sidewalk extensions in a few months, said Don Bragg, Prado’s senior vice president and director of development.
“Market and Dolores is going to be a much more significant intersection than it is right now,” said Wiener, who would like to see outdoor plazas manifest alongside the bulb-outs.
Not everyone agrees.
Marius Starkey, a former board member of the community advisory group who voted against the proposal, is loath to see Dolores Street change, because it is a part of El Camino Real, a state landmark road that runs from San Diego to Sonoma.
Karen Knowles-Pearce of the Mission Dolores Neighborhood Association, a group that represents approximately 300 residents and opposes the project, said that the bulb-outs are unnecessary.
The extensions are intended to shorten crosswalks, but “people can already rest at the medians if they get tired,” Knowles-Pearce said.
She worries that cars will cause a backup at the Whole Foods, where Dolores Street would shrink to one lane.
But community advisory board member Dennis Richards said that because of current traffic controls at the intersection, only one lane of cars can turn onto Dolores Street now. “The only difference would be the concrete,” he said.
“All the research and traffic modeling [the Planning Department has] done has demonstrated that this shouldn’t increase congestion,” said Dischinger.
If approved by the Planning Commission, the sidewalk extensions would constitute the first-ever in-kind agreement in the area plan’s vicinity, said Adam Varat, a city planner. Developers have been able to apply for in-kind agreements since the Market and Octavia Area Plan became effective on May 30, 2008, he said.
Under the agreement, Prado’s community infrastructure impact fee for the 2001 Market St. project would go into the community fund for impact fees and then be redirected to the sidewalk extension project.
The community infrastructure fee for the 2001 Market St. development was calculated at roughly $10 per square foot; added to other project fees, the developer’s total will come to around $1.4 million. Up to $450,000 of that will go toward the sidewalk extension project, if approved.
According to Bragg, the only question is whether the sidewalk job will be done by Prado or someone else, because the funding already exists.
Under an in-kind agreement, the city can avoid putting the sidewalk project out for an open bid and simply use Prado, which will already be on-site for the 2001 Market St. project. No muss, no fuss, city officials argued.
“It would be more expensive to do the same project if DPW [the Department of Public Works] did it,” said Wiener.
However, with no other developers to bid against, what will keep Prado’s cost estimates in line?
“At the end of the day, it will cost what it costs,” said Kate McGee, the San Francisco planner working with Prado on the agreement. “But in order for [Prado] to get the credit, they’ll have to give us the receipts for the work.”
According to McGee, DPW will review Prado’s design plans to verify that the company doesn’t use the money for “gold-plated piping.”
To Wiener, the in-kind agreement is a boon.
“We’ve always had these visions, but never had the money,” he said. “Now that the financial markets are coming back to life, we have a unique opportunity to leverage those developments to actually make some of these public space improvements.”
Wiener would like to see bulb-outs at other locations, as well. “I, and a lot of people, are very interested in bulbing out 18th and Dolores. That intersection needs to be more pedestrian-friendly.”