In a move that may prevent a showdown at an upcoming Planning Commission meeting in September, the developer of a major market-rate housing project planned for Bryant Street has reached an agreement with some of the art spaces that would be displaced by the development: In an attempt to address some of the art community’s concerns, including the preservation of cultural institutions and light industrial jobs, developer Nick Podell agreed to subsidize the relocation of art center Inner Mission and to pay for five years of subsequent rental costs for the soon-to-be-displaced arts-space tenants.
The agreement was announced Wednesday, a day before planning commissioners delayed consideration of Podell’s project until September 10. Podell’s deal caused a split in the opposition, whose members were out in full force at the Commission meeting.
“We are supporting this project,” said Eric Reid, a co-owner of Inner Mission, an arts organization on Bryant Street slated for eviction.
“Nick came to us and basically asked what he could do to help our situation,” said Reid. That question started six months of negotiations. “He is giving significant rent concessions since he grabbed the building, and now he is recognizing the value of the space for the art community,” Reid said.
The 2000 Bryant Street project, a proposed market-rate development that will occupy almost the entire block, would displace Inner Mission (formerly CELLspace) along with a landscaping firm, a local multimedia studio, a custom submarine parts factory, a family-run cafe, an auto repair, the American Conservatory Theater’s prop house, and three rent-controlled dwelling units.
“The agreement was reached with just one of many businesses,” said Jonathan Youtt, who co-founded CELLspace in 1996 and made an impassioned argument at the Commission meeting that the 2000 Bryant Street project be delayed.
He expected more agreements between now and the next Commission meeting to address the project, but added, “the big picture is that the development is violating the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan and never followed a proper community planning process. Now we want to be heard.”
A spokesperson for the Nick Podell Company, Boe Hayward, declined to comment on the issue until next week.
Last year Podell told Mission Local that he was planning to allot 44 of the 276 units in the development to on-site affordable housing.
Reid from Inner Mission confirmed that Podell has agreed to increase the number of affordable units by three and to allot storefronts to galleries and artists. In one-on-one negotiations, an automotive repair business reached a similar agreement with Podell, Reid said.
“We tried our hardest to address the community needs, but housing is a major issue and is not our expertise,” said Reid. “We were fighting to avoid the displacement of an artist venue… We are transferring the difficulty to wait until this project is approved. If it isn’t, the deal won’t take place and we will be on the streets.”
Organizations like the Cultural Action Network described the deal as a good “first step” but raised other concerns regarding the demolition itself.
“The loss of rare arts and light industrial spaces through conversions, demolitions, and high-end development continues to damage the cultural fabric of San Francisco, displacing family-owned businesses, blue-collar jobs, and world-renowned creative artists,” said the Network in a statement.
The demolition permit is up for approval, but tenants and housing activists are also demanding the Planning Commission issue a de facto temporary moratorium on market-rate projects, to prevent further gentrification.
Richard Sucre, a city worker, confirmed that the Planning Commission has received “close to 100 letters” from concerned members of the community.
“Although this is an approval hearing, the commissioners always factor in the public concern and will make the decision based on the planning code,” he said.
He added that some members of the public had been meeting individually with commissioners in recent weeks to discuss the project.
Neighbors are also looking for support in an online petition, addressed to Mayor Edwin Lee and all the commissioners, “to deny demolition and conditional use permit for 2000 Bryant Street.”
Cheyenne Concepcion, a planner and researcher at TODCO group, a housing development corporation in SoMa, said the Bryant Street project failed to offer an adequate mix of uses to prevent the loss of certain types of businesses.
“This means that building just luxury housing is not what the zone was designed for,” she said. “The block has a conditional use, and it has to be carefully revised by the commissioners.”
If the Planning Commission fails to deny the demolition, the opposition, she said, would appeal the decision to the Board of Supervisors. The recent 7-4 vote in favor of a Mission moratorium, which failed because it needed nine votes, has nonetheless given opponents of the Bryant Street project confidence of a win.
“Even if the developer doubles the amount of affordable units, this project would still create over 200 more luxury, non-affordable units in the Mission,” said Spike Kahn, a non-profit developer, who lives a block from the threatened space. She predicted rising rents and congestion as a result of the development. “Already over 5000 Latino families have been displaced in the Mission since 2000”, she added.
Indeed, Tortilla Flats (also known as Flats Cafe), located in the corner of 2000 Bryant Street and run by a Mexican family, was one of the first to close. “Thank you all for making these three years possible. Our last day will be May 28th,” a note hung on the door announced.
Inside, dust covers dishes and the floor is filled with cardboard boxes. A chalkboard announces the breakfast burritos, tacos, and flautas once served there.
“The first time we were notified to leave was August 2014, and since then we lived in a permanent fear,” said the former Flats Cafe owner, Carolina Montoya. “We closed in May because, although the lease will expire at the end of June, I invested all my money, more than $40,000, in the business. There was no more left to continue running it.”
Montoya said that she had to sell everything – a microwave, a grill, a TV, chairs, tables, paintings – “in a blink of an eye” and “for just $1,000.”
“My three employees stayed with me till the end, as well as the customers who came to eat their last meal on the closing day. I have been looking where to open another cafe, but I can’t afford the rent anywhere,” she said.