Architect Mark Horton shows plans for a four-story building at 268 Alabama St. at a Monday night public meeting.

Dandelion Chocolate unveiled its plans Monday night to expand into a four-story industrial building equipped with a rooftop pool — and found a small group of neighbors skeptical of the proposal.

Three people attended a meeting held in a back room of Dear Mom at 2700 16th St., which was designed to seek community input on a project that is currently in its preliminary design stage.

The artisan chocolate manufacturer, headed by two tech entrepreneurs — Cameron Ring and Todd Masonis — owns the metal frame warehouse at 268 Alabama St. out of which it currently operates, as well as an adjacent two-story brick building that once housed a printing company at 298 Alabama St. and a parking lot.

They are hoping to expand their operations and create new revenue by moving their chocolate factory to 298 Alabama St. and demolish the warehouse. After replacing it with a four-story glass and concrete building, they aim to lease out parts of it.

A ground-floor 15,000 square-foot gym and a rooftop pool will provide a space for triathlon athletes to train. The two remaining floors will be split between a 14,000 square-foot packaging facility for the chocolate factory, which will occupy the second floor and half of the third floor, and 13,000 square-feet of office space for rent. That space would be on half of the third floor and all of the fourth floor, explained architect Mark Horton.

The two buildings are currently split between two parcels, and the chocolatiers are seeking a conditional use authorization to adjust the lot line, moving them onto one parcel while connecting the buildings internally.

With construction expected to break ground sometime in early 2018, Horton discussed plans for the project’s initial design and fielded questions and concerns from the few neighbors in attendance.

The concept of a pool atop a chocolate factory had neighbor Anson Wong thoroughly confused.

“A rooftop pool in this area is a little excessive,” said Wong, who lives across the street from the proposed project with his wife and four-month-old. “I was born and raised in San Francisco – this pool stuff is great, but isn’t it a little excessive for this area?”

Wong wanted to know whether the pool’s design would be conducive to events or “parties up there,” hosted by “tech companies” leasing the office space below.

The Dandelion Chocolate Factory. Photo by Lydia Chávez

“If the third and fourth floors [are] offices, what I see happening is one of these tech companies will come in and say, ‘I want that whole floor [because] the pool is right on top,” said Wong. He then wanted to know who would be granted access to the pool.

Horton could not guarantee public use of the pool, which will primarily function as an extension of the ground-floor gym, but said that the pool’s design will be intended to host athletes, not pool parties.

“There is no club room,” he said. “There is a deck space. But I don’t know if it’s necessarily conducive to that.”

Wong pressed on. He inquired about the sustainability of a gym and how frequently the pool would be put to use.  

“My worry is, let’s say this [gym] doesn’t do well – will we have an empty pool sitting up there?” he wanted to know. “What’s going to happen five years from now, if the economy is not good and no one is training for triathlons. Will it be an unkept, empty pool festering with mosquitos up there?”

But Horton assured the neighbors that the pool would be maintained due to the security of “personal finances” involved in the project.

The site is zoned PDR — which stands for production, distribution, and repair — and is by law reserved for warehouses, manufacturing, automotive repair, or the arts.

Another neighbor, Doug MacNeil, a local merchant and owner of the building in which the meeting was held, raised concerns about the site’s PDR zoning. Efforts of inserting a gym and office space would inherently change its intended usage.

“They don’t want to be PDR – they use PDR as a disguise [to have] the ability to build a tech bubble,” said MacNeil. “It’s is a way to work around the rules.”

“[The Planning Department] beat into us that this is PDR and this is to get jobs for people who live in the neighborhood,” he said. “I don’t see any union jobs for people in this neighboring coming from this project, except maybe the people making the chocolate.”

Planning code dictates that new construction at 268 Valencia St. must provide one-third of the total space of the 41,743 square foot building for PDR use, said Horton – a rule that developers plan to follow and exceed.

“Here is a project where truly they will increase PDR space [260 percent] of 100 percent that currently exists,” he said, adding that the site’s existing 5,043 square feet of PDR space would be raised to some 14,000 square feet under the new proposal. “Its one of the few projects that’s increasing PDR in the city right now.”

For Dandelion’s story read here.

For the story of the building, read here.

More on Dandelion here.

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