The proposed project at 1296 Shotwell St. Design by Herman Coliver Locus.

Some of the same neighbors who in May opposed a nine-story, fully affordable housing project coming to Shotwell Street have continued their opposition, saying at a meeting on Wednesday that the building was too tall, too dense, and had too little parking.

“In this neighborhood we only have three stories,” said Lucy, a Shotwell Street neighbor who declined to give her last name. Lucy and seven other people attended a meeting at the Mission Cultural Center to oppose a 94-unit senior housing development coming to 1296 Shotwell St. near Cesar Chavez Street.

Lucy said that while “every unit counts,” one more affordable housing project would not solve “the problems of the city” and that it should be significantly scaled down to match the area.

“I think there should be a compromise,” she said to the team of non-profit developers who had agreed to the meeting. “If it’s a small lot, then you build a small building.”

Susie Coliver, principal with the architecture firm Herman Coliver Locus, which is responsible for the building’s design, said they had examined lowering the building. One floor lower would mean 80 units total, she said. Another floor, 75 units.

“Is it worth 19 units of permanently affordable senior housing to go from nine stories to seven stories?” she asked, to which there was no answer.

A comparison of the building at 1296 Shotwell St. at nine stories and seven stories. Design by Herman Coliver Locus.

The project is being developed by the pair of non-profit housing developers that hosted the meeting: the Mission Economic Development Agency and the Chinatown Community Development Center. The team will be seeking a one-time height exemption for the parcel, which is currently zoned for 65 feet, to bring their building to 85 feet.

Their city-subsidized building, which will have 67 one-bedrooms and 26 studios, will be permanently affordable to seniors 62 years old and up making up to 55 percent of area median income, or $41,450 for a single-person household. A fifth of the units will also be reserved for formerly homeless seniors making much less.

It sits next to a 157-unit market-rate development that reached 25 percent affordable in August, a milestone for San Francisco.

The site is one of seven that will be developed into fully affordable housing in the next few years, many of which are equally tall, which will bring some 800 below-market-rate units to the Mission District. All of the projects were introduced in just the last year and represent the first below-market-rate housing planned for the neighborhood in a decade.

The list of new affordable housing projects, presented to neighbors at the Wednesday meeting, was in no small way a part of the problem.

“Within a two block radius we already have a large number of buildings that are affordable,” said Anne, who did not give a last name. The city needed more housing, she and others said, but did it have to be in their corner of the Mission District?

And, she and others asked, didn’t the developers think they were adding to the congestion of the city with such a dense building?

“I think we’re contributing to solving the affordability crisis,” said Coliver, the architect. 

Coliver said that the building had in fact already lost two units by scaling down a portion of the side facing Bernal Heights. One of the main contentions at a previous neighborhood meeting was a monolithic facade facing the homeowners on Bernal Hill, and Coliver said input from that meeting resulted in a better building — albeit with two fewer homes.

“At what price?” said Craig Weber, a Shotwell Street neighbor, about the need to ease affordability in San Francisco and the Mission District.

“Your parking spot, that’s the price,” replied Annabelle Bolanos, a local resident and the only non-staff attendee who came to support the development.

“It’s not the parking, it’s the people,” answered Weber.

The project will have no parking spaces, as is common with new affordable housing developments. Coliver said her team concluded that developers could squeeze a maximum of 13 parking spots in the 12,000 square foot lot— but that would make the building “structurally not feasible,” since it would require removing the columns that support the structure.

The cost for the hypothetical scenario? Coliver said $2.25 million — or $180,000 a stall.

Neighbors understood the prohibitive expense of adding parking, but asked the developers to lower the height. Fewer units would mean fewer people, they said, easing parking in their residential neighborhood.

“You all have your own parking spots,” said Bolanos. “You have a big old house on Shotwell Street.”

“Well, how about guests?” asked Lucy, before the conversation turned to shadow impact and wind tunnels.

The nearly two-hour meeting saw shadow impact projections, evidence that wind tunnels would not be created, and maps of nearby transit. All were presented in a bid to convince neighbors that the height of the building would contribute neither to the availability of sun, parking congestion, or fierce gusts.

That bid, however, was ultimately unsuccessful, as neighbors reiterated their demand for a “compromise” to allow for some affordable housing, but not nine stories’ worth.

“The compromise is nine stories,” said Naveen Agrawal, a project assistant with MEDA. He said the Bay Area has added hundreds of thousands of jobs in the last few years, but scarcely any new housing. San Francisco and other cities were looking to build dense in the few sites left. “Nine stories is a compromise for San Francisco.”

“It’s not a compromise for the neighbors of this project,” responded Weber.

Still, project sponsors said, the project will be built, and it will be built at nine stories and 85 feet.

“If you want an official response from us,” said Dario Romero, a community planning manager with MEDA, “we are not lowering the height because we don’t want to lose any of the units.”

The entrance to 1296 Shotwell St. on Shotwell Street. Design by Herman Coliver Locus.
The project at 1296 Shotwell St. The white box on the right is the height of the proposed development at 1515 South Van Ness Ave. Design by Herman Coliver Locus.
The view from Cesar Chavez Street of 1296 Shotwell St. Design by Herman Coliver Locus.

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  1. The selfless are usually the folks that live in some cozy neighborhood that is not threatened by buildings four stories above height limits, large homeless encampments, navigation centers, and other dense urban situations like those on the block of 26th and Shotwell.

  2. Building this is sheer arrogance. Since when do people in communities not have a voice as to what goes up right on their doorsteps. We have lovely low-income housing in this neighborhood that fits in with the fabric and texture of the neighborhood. And, that telephone building that someone mentioned creates a wind tunnel so strong one has to sometimes grab the cement garbage cans to not get blown away. Why is this building being pegged as some low income housing savior anyway? It’s only one building, folks. It’s not going solve the cities low incoming housing problems by itself. Build low income housing, I’m for it, but be respectful for the people who live here.

  3. Well, let’s hope the core is built out of cast concrete, instead of a steel frame. Then it will sink into the liquefaction and disappear — problem solved!

  4. Lucy is lying. Everything is not 3 stories. Note the hospital and AT&T buildings both within a block or two.

  5. Ugh–so selfish, it’s outrageous. These people should be ashamed of themselves. Why is anyone listening to them?

  6. “It’s not the parking, it’s the people,” answered Weber.

    Greg, I think you meant to say “property values,” not “people.” That seems to be what this group cares about. If it truly were “people” you’d support the project.

  7. You can’t please everyone and there’s no point in trying. I certainly hope this development moves forward at the full 9 stories. 94 affordable senior housing units trump concerns about having to spend more time looking for parking.

    1. I totally agree with you. This is an awesome project. I’m sure the planning dpt will listen to what the neighbors have to say, but if it’s all nimby stuff, then the project will certainly move forward with 9 floors, and that’s great news. The seniors in the neighborhood will be low income and certainly without vehicles. They will be using public transportation and contribute to local businesses. It only makes complete sense!