Oscar Grande from PODER SF leading one of the small groups discussing the 1296 Shotwell St. project. Photo: Joe Rivano Barros / Mission Local.

At a community meeting for the new affordable senior housing complex nonprofits are planning to build at 1296 Shotwell St., neighbors raised concerns about parking, the height of the nine-story building, and its relationship to the planned adjacent 160-unit market-rate housing development.

As currently planned, the senior center would have 96 units of senior housing affordable to those making less than 50 percent of area median income, which is $35,700 a year for a one person. Additionally, 20 percent of the units would be reserved for formerly homeless seniors.

Many hoped the neighboring projects, market-rate and affordable, could merge to become a single large affordable housing complex.

“I think there’s an opportunity to combine these two projects,” said Eddie Stiel, a Mission resident. He was the first of many to suggest to the nonprofit developers in charge of the project — the Mission Economic Development Agency and Chinatown Community Development Center — that they search for a way to purchase the site at 1515 South Van Ness and design complementary developments.

“We’re gonna have a senior tower in one corner and ugly condos in the other [if not],” he said.

Presenters at the meeting did not address the feasibility of this head-on, but did say there were a lot of unknowns regarding the market-rate neighbor on the block — to be developed by the Lennar Corporation — including what the project would look like and whether it would even go forward.

“It’s not even clear that they own the site,” said Karoleen Feng, director of community real estate at MEDA. The project is also affected by interim controls the Planning Commission recently put in place for the Mission District, meaning it must obtain additional permits to push ahead with plans for development.

Despite the lack of clarity regarding the Lennar project, many in the room were concerned that the block — which now hosts single-story auto repair shops and warehouses — would transform into disjointed housing towers and hoped for a way to integrate the Lennar site into a cohesive whole.

“The Lennar building is drawing a lot of concern,” said Whitney Jones, director of housing at Chinatown CDC.

The possibility of the Lennar site becoming affordable housing in some coordinated fashion with 1296 Shotwell is small. It would require that the Mayor’s Office of Housing first purchase the site and then put out a bid for development to a non-profit, which would delay the 1296 Shotwell site if any joint complex were envisioned.

The city did just that at 490 South Van Ness, when it bought the site for $18.5 million last summer for 72 units of affordable housing. But that deal was contentious: The city paid $260,000 per unit, up from the $34,000 per unit private developers originally paid in 2009 when they purchased the site for $2.5 million.

If Lennar has pushed ahead with the permits it needs under the Mission’s interim controls — which some said it had — 1296 Shotwell is likely to remain the only affordable housing planned there for the foreseeable future.

Many were also concerned with the project details as they stood, raising some oft-heard complaints of too little parking and uncharacteristic heights.

“We don’t want to see something that goes up like a big block,” said one nearby resident.

“Too high, too high,” shouted another, as Feng from MEDA explained that the development would take advantage of a density bonus to add an extra two stories above current height limits.

“The city asked us to maximize the number of units, and to do that on this site we’re talking about nine stories,” Feng said.

Others were concerned about the inevitable lottery process that will select who will live in the new building, asking that more units be reserved for local residents. But that decision is out of the hands of MEDA and Chinatown CDC — the city already has a preference for district residents, though it only applies to 40 percent of a project’s units.

“We heard about the need that especially folks in this neighborhood get access,” said Oscar Grande from PODER SF.

The meeting was the first of many that will take place in the coming years. Residents will be able to give input to project developers that may shape the final design and features of the building, Feng said, and construction will likely start in 2018 and be finished by 2019 or 2020, when residents will start moving in.

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Joe was born in Sweden, where the Chilean half of his family received asylum after fleeing Pinochet, and spent his early childhood in Chile; he moved to Oakland when he was eight. He attended Stanford University for political science and worked at Mission Local as a reporter after graduating. He then spent time in advocacy as a partner for the strategic communications firm The Worker Agency. He rejoined Mission Local as an editor in 2023.

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