Neighbors of a new affordable housing project were adamant at a community meeting on Saturday morning: They oppose a nine-story senior building coming to Shotwell Street near Cesar Chavez Street because its height will create wind tunnels, block sunlight, and “bring downtown to the Mission.”
Bernal Heights residents were particularly vocal about the building, which will be the tallest in the area, saying the development would obstruct their skyline views.
“I have a beautiful view of the cityscape and the cityscape is going to be gone and I don’t want that,” said Joelle Chartier, a Bernal Heights resident. Chartier called the project “selfish, insane, and out of character” and said the city should consider lowering the number of units and look elsewhere to build up.
“Maybe it’s not 96 units. There are so many open spaces in the city, why do we have to raise the Mission?” she said.
Whitney Jones, the director of housing development with one of the non-profit developers of the project Chinatown Development Community Center, countered by saying there was no such abundance of parcels open for affordable housing citywide.
Parking lots and gas stations could host more housing, Jones said, but many such sites are privately owned and parcels that are owned by the city and shovel-ready for new development are rare, he said.
“That’s not the universe we’re dealing with,” he said.
The project at 1296 Shotwell St. between Cesar Chavez and 26th streets would offer 95 affordable units — plus one unit for an on-site property manager — to seniors making up to 50 percent of area median income, which is $37,700 for a one-person household. Because the parcel is currently capped at 65 feet, project sponsors will be seeking a legislative workaround that would single out the parcel for a height increase to 85 feet.
Though there are taller buildings in the Mission District, the Shotwell Street project lies right between the hillside homes of Bernal Heights and their views of the city.
“I think you guys have a real height problem,” said Todd Lappin, an 11-year homeowner in Bernal Heights and founder of the neighborhood blog Bernalwood.
Lappin — who has dubbed the project the “Great Wall on Shotwell” — said he was not concerned about his views per se but did have problems with the design of the building. A windowless facade faces Bernal Heights, which Lappin said was disrespectful to the project’s neighbors.
“I would hope you could consider some options so Bernal Heights neighbors don’t have to stare at an 85-foot slab,” he said. Project sponsors have promised to commission a mural for the side facing Bernal, though that did little to assuage resident concerns.
Sponsors also worked hard to convince concerned residents that the loss of height would mean a loss of potential senior residents.
Just 28 of the project’s units are studios for singles, and the remaining 67 are one-bedrooms meant for senior couples or those with caretakers. Because each floor can host 12-13 units, each story lost translates to a dozen senior families without a place in the Mission District.
That meant little to some opponents.
“I want to house seniors, but the Mission is going through a crisis,” said Marie Sorenson, a member of the neighborhood association Calle 24. If the project is allowed to go above its height limit, it would start a rush by private developers to upzone the Mission District, she said, causing the area to “lose its personality” in the face of high-rise development.
“We don’t want the Mission to be downtown. We don’t want wind tunnels. We want sunlight in our neighborhoods,” she said.
Not all were opposed to the project. Fran Taylor, a transit advocate with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, said she usually agreed with her friends in Calle 24 but could not understand the opposition to a fully affordable housing site.
“The height doesn’t bother me. I don’t think this is going to set a precedent and turn us into SoMa,” she said. “I think one person’s slightly impeded view is less important than a building for seniors.”
Others voiced non-height concerns, like the lack of parking — the site will create just four street parking spots — and the market-rate development by development giant Lennar Corporation to be built next door. Residents at a community meeting earlier in the year voiced hopes that the Lennar development — dubbed the “Titanic Mess on South Van Ness” — could merge with the affordable one and repeated that stance on Saturday.
The Shotwell Street project will be built by a pair of non-profit affordable housing developers: the Mission Economic Development Agency and Chinatown Community Development Center. The legislative height exception for the site would require approval by the Board of Supervisors, said Jones, and may have to go before the Planning Commission.
It is one of two affordable projects to be built by the non-profit pair in the Mission District — the other a 101-unit complex at 17th and Folsom — and if successful would be a boon for MEDA, which is a newcomer to the affordable housing game.
Construction is scheduled to begin by early 2018, and residents will move in by early 2020.
Disclosure: Mission Local is a commercial tenant of the Mission Economic Development Agency at their Plaza Adelante building.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Todd Lapin was a 25-year homeowner in Bernal Heights. He has owned a home in Bernal Heights for 11 years and was previously a renter in the Mission District for 14 years.