A housing development planned for Cesar Chavez Street received a mostly unwelcome reception at a meeting on Tuesday night, when a handful of neighbors told project sponsors that the 6-story building would cast too much of a shadow and make parking too difficult.
The project would replace a single-story office building at 3620 Cesar Chavez St. near Guerrero Street with 24 units of market-rate housing.
“Did you guys do a shadow study?” asked one neighbor named Ari, who was worried that the 65-foot building would rob his backyard of sunlight. He was one of 13 neighbors to attend the meeting and lives 61 feet from the project on 26th Street.
“No,” answered David Sternberg, the lead architect for the project, saying the city didn’t require such a study. Sternberg said the building went to the height limit for the lot, and that with any new construction, there would be consequences to surrounding neighbors.
The building would have 24 units above a small ground-floor retail space. Four of the units are one-bedrooms and 20 are two-bedrooms sized at around 1,000 square feet. The architects said they did not yet know whether the units would be rentals or condos and suggested that the developers were more likely to pay an fee for affordable housing than build affordable housing on-site.
Although it was unclear why, the design shrank from 28 units proposed at an earlier neighborhood meeting to 24 units, but residents still felt there would not be enough parking. The current plan calls for 12 off-street parking spaces, or half a spot per unit — the maximum allowed by the city under its transit-first policy.
“I’d rather have more parking,” said another neighbor. “We’ve lost so many parking spots in the neighborhood.”
“It doesn’t look like any of the concerns have been addressed from last time,” said Ari, who lives 61 feet from the project.
Sternberg, the architect, said that in all likelihood there was nothing he could do to appease those concerned with the building’s height.
“If we went down 5 to 10 feet, would that be enough for you?” he asked.
“That’s a good question,” Ari said. “Can we see a shadow study?”
Eddie Stiel, a local activist and frequent attendee of neighborhood housing meetings, also asked that architects do a shadow study.
“Are you going to pay for it?” Sternberg asked.
Sternberg’s partner, Mitchell Benjamin, told the neighbors that the city had made dense building a priority in large streets like Cesar Chavez and in transit-heavy areas like the Mission District. They were simply following the city’s guidelines in building to the height limit on the lot, he said.
“Cesar Chavez is a wide boulevard, it’s a transit corridor,” said Benjamin. “This is what Planning has designated for main boulevards. This is what happens in urban settings.”
Benjamin said the lot, which is five blocks from the 24th Street Bart Station and across the street from the new 142-foot tall St. Luke’s Hospital building under construction, was just one of the many zoned to rise to 65 feet on Cesar Chavez Street. The building would soon be joined by tall neighbors, he said, and it would be irresponsible to build any lower on a main thoroughfare.
“Planning is looking for density of housing,” he said, adding that 65 feet is the height limit on Cesar Chavez. “That’s what they’re going to expect from all the parcels on this street.”
Other attendees had a myriad of complaints. One neighbor said he worked from home one week a month and would be disturbed by the construction, asking whether the developer could make any “accommodations” around his sleep schedule.
Gary Nathan, another neighbor, said the solar panels on his roof would be blocked by shadows. He currently pays nothing in utilities, he said, and would have half his sunlight blocked by the building, according to solar technicians he hired to do an analysis.
“How am I going to be compensated for that?” he asked. Nathan said he had no problem with the project and that the development would be “an improvement over the dump” currently on-site, but that he wanted something from the developer to mitigate the lack of sunlight.
“Yup, yup,” admitted Sternberg, the architect, saying he had worked on city legislation meant to address this very issue, legislation that was eventually killed off.
He offered to connect Nathan to friends in the solar industry, but said simply, “You will be affected part of the time.”
Jackie Barshak, another local activist, entered the meeting late and asked the architect about the affordable housing on-site.
“Who’s gonna live in this building? Who’s going to be able to afford to live in this building?” she asked.
Benjamin and Sternberg said they did not know and that the units would go for their market value. Asked what the percentage of affordable housing would be on-site, the architects said it would be 14.5 percent — as required by the city, since the project was grandfathered in before the new 25 percent requirement imposed by Proposition C in June.
More likely, however, architects said the developer would pay an in-lieu fee equivalent to 20 percent of the housing on-site.
“That’s not enough,” Barshak said. “Could you go higher? Higher than 20 percent?”
“No,” said Benjamin. “This is a moderate sized project. We can only absorb so much.”
Barshak and the architects continued arguing and after a few minutes, Sternberg had had enough.
“Quite frankly you’re being adversarial,” said Sternberg.
“Yes I am adversarial,” she said. “I am against this project.”
Sternberg, whose firm Sternberg Benjamin Architects has a few projects in the Mission District, including a 32-unit project on the corner of Harrison and 21st streets and a 24-unit project on the corner of 17th and Valencia streets, said the project would begin the permitting process soon.
He said the project but was unlikely to break ground before 18 months, and that construction would take another 12 to 14 months after that.
The project will not require a hearing before the Planning Commission, Benjamin said, unless opponents ask for a discretionary review. Barshak and Stiel were the only activists at the meeting, and no organized opposition to the project has yet emerged.
Correction: An earlier version of this piece was titled “Neighbors to Developer: Too Tall, Too Much Parking.”