After two weeks of last-minute negotiations between the developer of the largest housing project planned for the Mission District and its opponents, the scene is set for a contentious hearing at City Hall on Thursday as officials weigh the merits of a development that is going forward as-is.
“Everything fell through,” said Spike Kahn, the founder of the arts space the Pacific Felt Factory and a principal opponent of the project. “We presented reasonable compromises, went below what we originally asked, and still got nowhere.”
Earlier this year, the developer of 2000-2070 Bryant St., Nick Podell, decided to split his site in two and dedicated 34 percent of it to affordable housing. That move — though it bumped up the affordable housing on-site to 41 percent, an unprecedented number — put the city on hook to finance and construct those affordable units and local activists fear that means the units will be built later.
Activists like Kahn wanted Podell to increase the amount of affordable housing to 50 percent of the project site, to secure financing for it, to promise to retain light industrial space formerly on the project site, and to use union labor in construction.
They did not estimate how many more affordable units could be built on half the land as opposed to the third Podell dedicated.
Instead, Podell offered two more “flex units” that could be used as live-work space for artists, but that was too little, activists said. The project — a nearly block-long site on Bryant Street between 18th and 19th streets — will go before the Planning Commission on Thursday for final approval with the design envisioned by Podell.
“He hasn’t made any concessions at all from the first time we talked to him,” said Kahn of the years-long delays faced by Podell. “He’s said, ‘It’s mine, I’ll do with it as I wish.’”
Long Bitter Battles
Podell has been waiting three years to begin constructing housing on the site, but faced early opposition from neighborhood groups who said the mostly market-rate building would exacerbate gentrification in the Mission District. They also said the project eliminates much-needed light industrial space from the neighborhood.
Those opponents got a rare reprieve on May 19 after the mayor’s office stepped in to facilitate negotiations between the project’s developer and activists. A vote on the project was delayed to June 2, after which Kahn and others said millions of dollars could be raised by them to help increase the amount of affordable housing in the project.
That offer, Kahn said, was rebuked by Podell.
“He laughed at it and said that his financing is really low-interest and he didn’t need our money,” she said.
Podell did not return requests for comment.
The additional fundraising was required, Kahn said, to ensure more affordable housing got built and on time.
At present, a six-story brick building would house 196 market-rate units and three below-market-rate units atop retail and light industrial space at 2000 Bryant St. An eight-story building next door at 2070 Bryant St. — separated from the first by a public walkway — would fulfill Podell’s affordable housing requirement with 136 units for low-income tenants.
Activists opposed the change earlier this year, saying the amount of affordable housing was too low and that it shifted the burden of financing and construction onto taxpayers. They wanted the percentage of land dedicated to affordable housing raised to 50 percent and wanted a guarantee of financing for those units so the affordable site would be constructed alongside the market-rate one.
The city has said it can fund the affordable site and construct it in as little as three years. Activists point to the years-long delays at other land dedication sites as evidence that the affordable units could be delayed by as long as a decade.
Activists also wanted the preservation of the block’s former PDR space — which stands for production, distribution, and repair, a type of light industrial space used for artists and other makers that has been rapidly vanishing from the Mission District.
“There were numerous community representatives pressing for 100 percent PDR retention, 50 percent affordable housing or more, and 100 percent labor on the project,” said Peter Papadopoulos, a member of the Cultural Action Network and another principal opponent of the project. “And that was turned down by the developer with little motion.”
“With no PDR, it’s a joke,” Kahn said of Podell’s project, which transforms some 50,000 square feet of such space into 11,000 square feet under the proposed design — most of which would be built by the city on the affordable site.
The project now goes before the Planning Commission for an up-or-down vote. Kahn said dozens of residents will come out to Thursday’s hearing and ask commissioners to stop the development, calling the two-week postponement a “delaying tactic.”
“We feel they were just undermining our organizing,” she said. “The same amount of people are still upset with basically the same project.”
Dennis Richards, the vice-president of the Planning Commission, said opponents of the project need to make their case that the Bryant Street development “is not necessary or desirable and not compatible” for commissioners to delay or vote down the project.
“Loss of PDR space, the amount of affordable housing proposed and when it gets built, and labor’s opposition are the main areas of contention that I see remain unresolved,” he said.
Even if the project is approved, Papadopoulos said activists would continue to push for more affordable housing, light industrial space, and union labor, vowing to appeal the decision to the Board of Supervisors.
“If it goes forward tomorrow, we intend to try to appeal the decision,” he said. “This is only beginning.”