In a rare specimen of lightning-speed bureaucracy, the Planning Commission on Thursday unanimously re-approved an entirely below market rate building planned for 17th and Folsom streets, dismissing a neighbor’s concerns over flooding in the area.
“There couldn’t be any more win-win situation for all,” said Commissioner Kathrin Moore.
The building, 2060-2070 Folsom Street, has been in the works for years and secured approvals for additional height and environmental review exemptions during its first run through the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors approval process in 2016.
Its 127 units are being developed by the Mission Economic Development Agency and Chinatown Community Development Center.
A neighbor of the project, Margaret Eve-Lynne Miyasaki, filed a request for discretionary review in February. The request triggered another hearing at the Planning Commission to address the concerns raised.
These included worries over a lack of parking, the height of the building, crime, and most prominently, the impact of adding 127 new units to the area on sewer flooding. The latter is a problem that plagues the intersection of 17th and Folsom streets and its surroundings.
“I can’t imagine why anyone would want to bring in more people to the environment such as it is,” she told the Commission.
Recounting flooding she witnessed in December 2014, Miyasaki said, “Cars were floating in that water. There was a dumpster to the left, heading down Folsom toward SoMa. The waters had so much force they were rushing. I was amazed.”
Heavy rains have meant overflowing sewers in small parts of the city for years. The 2014 storms were particularly heavy, but even smaller rainfall volumes can overwhelm the system allowing water mixed with sewage to flow up over sidewalks and into garages and yards. With mixed success, the city frequently deploys sandbags and water barriers to protect buildings on the corridor.
The flooding occurs because water from other parts of the city flows into topographic basins and exceeds the capacity of the pipes.
Constructing a new building there, the nonprofit developer argued, would actually reduce the amount of rainwater going into the system locally, because the building would be designed to absorb some 30 percent of stormwater that falls on it.
“The site is already an asphalt parking lot, and 100 percent of the water runs off,” said Commissioner Dennis Richards, echoing MEDA’s argument. “In the future, only 70 percent will, so it’s actually a better situation than there is now.”
Two other neighbors, one of them living with Miyasaki, objected to the removal of public space and said some residents in the area had been left out of the required notification process. Planning staff had determined earlier, however, that the developer had done their due diligence in reaching out to the neighborhood.
The developer and commissioners argued that crime, too, would be reduced rather than exacerbated by 127 new units of housing and a ground floor space housing nonprofits moving to the block.
“It’s proven that when you have a chain link fence with nobody looking out on the street, with cars, you’re going to have more break-ins and more crime,” said Richards. “When there’s more eyes on the street, crime goes down…If it doesn’t I’d be incredibly surprised.”
Moore added that the city had done extensive vetting of the project and thoroughly examined its technical and design aspects.
“We should be basically taking two minutes to approve it,” she said – and so (nearly) it was.
The decision could still be appealed, which would send it back for further reviews by other city bodies.