Two buildings proposed for the Mission came before the Planning Commission on Thursday afternoon for design reviews – the developer of 1924 Mission St, near 15th, left with instructions to make more changes while commissioners critiqued but approved 1298 Valencia St. 

The seven-story, 11-unit building on Mission that would replace a former auto body shop had already gone through one redesign, but on Thursday the planning staff wanted the building “to reflect a more traditional design…in keeping with the neighborhood.”

Carlos Bocanegra, who had requested the discretionary review on behalf of  Our Mission No Eviction, said the group wanted the ground floor commercial space dedicated to trade shop space (an earlier owner concession) to be expanded and kept affordable. This, he said, would ensure that a neighborhood-serving business, rather than a luxury goods manufacturer, could set up shop there.

Renderings for 1924 Mission Street by architect Gerry Ramsey, with the previous design on the left and the new design on the right.

Bocanegra also asked that a mural be considered for an empty wall on the proposed building and that the in-lieu fees for affordable housing required by the city be paid into a fund for small sites acquisition rather than the general affordable housing fund.

But that wasn’t all.

“I look at this building sometimes and am confused whether I’m standing in front of a Miami beachfront summer home or an Airbnb in San Diego,” he said.

He wasn’t alone.

“We recognize that the design of the exterior could continue to evolve, [and] that changes to the fenestration and roof line and other things can happen,” said Rich Sucre of the Planning Department.

And that, it seems, is what will happen.  Commissioners voted unanimously to have the developer continue to work on a redesign with the Planning Department, allocate additional space to trade shop use instead of a different business use in the ground floor, consider a mural on the building, and send their fee money to a small sites fund.

For his part, Gerry Ramsey, the architect, said earlier in the meeting that he and the property owner would keep working with neighbors.

“We want to be part of the community, we want people to say, ‘hey look, we’re glad you’re here,” he said. “We want to be proud of what we’re doing.”

Several blocks to the south, at 1298 Valencia St at 24th, the review process played out differently.

“I just wish it was a little more of a kumbaya moment like we had in the last project,” remarked Commissioner Dennis Richards.

Neighborhood activists had similarly requested a discretionary review, but this time for a much larger project that would replace a gas station with 35 units of housing, only one of them below market rate.

The developer promised to pay $2.3 million in in-lieu fees for affordable housing to be built elsewhere and add a $720,000 as a gift to the city. That was a point of contention with Peter Papadopoulos, a neighborhood activist who had asked for the Discretionary Review on behalf of the Mission Economic Development Agency. The single on-site affordable unit in the building had been added as a concession to neighborhood activists who had earlier criticized opting for the fee.

“We appreciate the additional fee money, but it’s not going to be spent for five to ten years, long after the peak of this crisis has gone on,” Papadopoulos said.

But the allocation of affordability fees is not within the Commission’s purview, so the conversation turned to design.

“Regarding the design, I think it speaks for itself and it speaks poorly,” said neighbor Rick Hall.

The 35-unit building, 55 feet tall at six stories, sports a dark facade with bright white and orange accents, as part of a modern and boxy appearance with irregularly spaced and sized windows.

Representatives of several neighborhood business groups said they liked it.

“I think this is going to be a beautiful design. I love it, I really like it, and it will better the neighborhood,” said Martha Vaughan, president of the Nicaraguan American Chamber of Commerce of Northern California.

“My dad used to say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” said Carlos Solórzano, CEO of the Hispanic Chambers of Commerce San Francisco, before reading a letter in support of the project from the group’s Board of Directors.

Some of the Commissioners had their own reservations about the design.

“I really regret…the fact that you are intentionally creating this as a standalone design. I think is really unfortunate,” said Commissioner Kathrin Moore.

But others wanted to avoid too much conformity.

Papadopoulos had raised a concern that the building was just barely outside the Calle 24 Latino Cultural corridor – what he called a “literally over the line” and thus “a sensitive area” – which Commissioner Christine Johnson described as a good thing.

“At some point, there’s a boundary, and then there’s the other side of it,” she said. “This is a good project to have on the other side of that border.”

As far as context goes, not everyone was convinced that buildings should be designed to look like what came before them.

“Should we make things look like they were built today, or should we make them kind of in the Victorian contextual?” asked Commission President Rich Hillis.

But then he added: “I don’t understand the orange that’s creeping up in every building we see these days.”

“Are you guys requiring that in lieu of bay windows?” he jokingly asked Planning staff.

On that, architect Ian Birchall was willing to concede.

“It’s been in the works for four years, [the colors] are four years old. Maybe it’s past their time,” he said.

Commissioners unanimously approved the project without making any changes, though Hillis did suggest toning down the colors a little.