A 12-unit building planned to replace an auto repair shop at 15th and Mission streets was sent back to the drawing board on Thursday after a unanimous Planning Commission vote to delay a decision on the project and recommend the developer make design changes.
The vote came months after the Mission Economic Development Agency filed a request for a review last September, saying the developers weren’t doing enough to mitigate the gentrifying effects of adding another mostly market-rate development to the Mission Street corridor.
“A project like this is able to and should do more to help the community, to help this family corridor that is really seeing this unprecedented growth,” said Peter Papadopoulos, an activist with the Cultural Action Network who is acting as a contractor for MEDA in this review process.
The main requests were for the developer to include more than two units of affordable housing and to find a way to help relocate the auto repair shop that the building would replace. But Papadopoulos also raised an objection to the design:
“This is not what we think of as a family corridor look,” he said. “I’m not an architect, but I think the more traditional housing that you see next door exemplifies more the feel of this family corridor.”
The question of aesthetics ended up dominating the commissioners’ discussion of what discretion they would exercise on the project, with several remarking on the sleek, modern look.
“I have to just state that I hate the design, nothing against the architect,” said Commissioner Myrna Melgar. “Big windows, to me, are a statement of class and privilege.”
“The first thing that came to mind is the Starship Enterprise,” said Commissioner Kathryn Moore. “It speaks to, really, the new housing demographics, because of its unusual highly glassy appearance. It does not smoothly integrate into the context of where it is.”
“I think we need to do something with the design and I do agree…it looks almost like a stage,” said Commissioner Dennis Richards, echoing an earlier comment. “It is a little aggressive.”
Most of the new development in the Mission looks like different versions of the same box-like structure.
Commissioners asked the developer to return in a month with new designs that turn an air shaft between the building and its neighbor into a matching light well, make a few adjustments to the roof deck to reduce the appearance of the building’s height, and to change the materials and window size to better blend into the neighborhood.
They agreed that the commission is not supposed to dictate how many affordable units are required in a building. Though earlier reports indicated the unit would have one below-market-rate unit, two of the 12 units will be affordable.
MEDA itself fell prey to the discretionary review process when a neighbor filed one against their affordable housing development at 17th and Folsom streets in early February.
MEDA’s move to delay the project drew some controversy, in part because of a report in Socketsite indicating that MEDA had a policy of being “universally opposed to any development along Mission Street.” The quote, based on a planning document, was drawn from a statement by the developer about MEDA rather than from a representative of MEDA.
Papadopoulos denied that MEDA has such a policy, saying that the agency does support below-market-rate developments and does not oppose market rate developments that make significant concessions.
“The most important thing is that the project provide as much affordable housing as possible, retain blue collar jobs, preferably provide opportunities for immigrant families entering the neighborhood,” he said in an earlier interview. “And so we’re looking for projects to include each of those kinds of components, when possible, into their design.”
The developers of 1900 Mission had also already agreed to make some changes to the project since its first proposal in 2013, like removing office space and parking spots to add three units and finding a neighborhood business that employs at-risk youth to occupy the ground-floor commercial space.
“We saw the opportunity to do what we saw as a gentle and balanced housing project,” said Doug Elliott, one of the project sponsors, who noted that he often advises affordable housing developers on their projects. “We understand the tension between the gentrification forces in the Mission and the need for housing.”
Kevin Stephens, an architect for the project, said after the hearing that the changes seemed reasonable to accommodate and called them “pretty straightforward.”
“We want to be flexible and be a good community neighbor,” said Keith Cich, who is co-developing the project. He noted, however, MEDA’s resistance to new projects on Mission street and said he hoped the changes would address their concerns.
Papadopoulos, for his part, said some of those concerns were still pertinent.
“We’d like to see projects such as this one do significantly more than the minimum affordable housing requirement during this crisis,” he wrote. “We remain concerned about the future of the 24 year old auto shop currently at the site and will seek other avenues in an effort to find a way to keep them in business.”