Vehement opposition by housing rights activists and Mission community members has forced the developer of the second largest market-rate housing project to hit the Mission District, 2000-2070 Bryant Street, to put his plans on hold.
A letter sent by developer Nick Podell’s attorney, Steve Vettel, to the San Francisco Planning Department explains that the developer’s decision to halt the project is a direct response to “comments and concerns we have heard from members of the community.”
Podell attempted to force the Planning Commission to approve the project before Proposition I goes to vote in November by invoking the Streamlining Act — a move that did not sit well with some members of the commission. Under this act, the project would have been automatically approved if the commission failed to act within 60 days, which gave the Commission a deadline of September 30.
“I think [the developers] knew that the Commission would not have approved the plan in the first place,” said Commissioner Dennis Richards, citing design issues and the lack of a full Environmental Impact Report.
“I was surprised. There is a huge time constraint to approve such a large, complicated, and contentious project by September 30,” said Richards. “In my year on the [Planning Commission] we’ve not approved this kind of project on the first hearing.”
Even without Podell delaying the project, it might have been delayed in November by Proposition I, the Mission moratorium ballot initiative that, if approved by voters, will halt new market-rate development for 18 months.
Opponents call the nearly block-sized project the “Beast on Bryant” and have objected to it because it adds more market-rate housing to the Mission. The development would also shutter some small businesses and displace rent-controlled tenants — some of whom have met their looming eviction with resistance.
Others, including the owners of commercial tenant Inner Mission, are pleased with Podell and his approach to the project and say he has agreed to pay for relocation costs and some rent when they leave their space.
“We are disappointed that it was pulled back but understand and are sympathetic to the reasons for doing it,” said Tim Colen, executive director of the Housing Action Coalition, which endorsed the project. “It reflects how difficult it is in San Francisco to build housing and to address the housing affordability crisis. It’s not possible to improve affordability if we don’t build a lot more housing.”
“I think that the efforts to stop the project are misguided–and will worsen displacement and housing prices,” he added.
“Bryant Street does not want to be a symbol or catalyst for a movement or cause,” said Evette Davis, a spokesperson for Podell. “This is a developer who’d simply like to build housing in San Francisco and if pressing “pause” to take a deep breath and reconfigure the project is what it takes, then that’s what we’re going to do. In the meantime, we’ll continue our conversations with various parties.”
The Podell company is now “considering certain revisions to address those concerns, including the mix of uses and the project design” and plans to present the project to the Planning Commission some time before November.
While the additional environmental review could take up to two months, this could give the developers time to build support for the project and have it in front of the commission before November.
“They are really in a tough spot — but changing the project and possibly getting it approved by November is the best of all worlds,” said Richards. “It’s a squeaker–but it’s possible.”
Update: The project’s spokesperson, Evette Davis, confirmed via email that Podell’s intention is to proceed with the development–should San Francisco voters reject the moratorium proposed on the November ballot:
“We do expect to proceed with a revised project. We own the property and it is not for sale. We have every intention of returning in November with a revised plan addressing as many concerns as we can. Obviously if the moratorium passes, all housing, other than 100 percent affordable housing, will stop for 18 months.”