housing development 793 south van ness
A preliminary rendering of 799 South Van Ness Avenue, a project proposed for 19th Street and South Van Ness Avenue, by Ian Birchall + Associates

The future of an abandoned former gas station at 19th Street and South Van Ness Avenue seems to be getting clearer, as a proposal for 69 units of rental housing — 10 of them below-market-rate — moves through the permitting process. A hearing before the Planning Commission is expected later this year.

A Shell gas station at the site shut down in 2004, and plans to develop 29 units of housing were proposed in 2005. Those plans were abandoned amid the 2008 economic downturn.

The developer is Joe Toboni, whose company recently completed a similar project two blocks away at 17th Street and South Van Ness, Toboni said at a small meeting at the Planning Department Tuesday afternoon. The ground-floor commercial space in that building continues to seek a tenant.

At the meeting, a few neighbors weighed in on design and other considerations. One recommended leaving space for fire trucks that often pass through the area on their way to the fire station on 19th and Folsom streets. Another raised concerns about loading-zone parking.

The plans, so far, include 37 parking spots on the ground floor and a bike parking space for each unit. Toboni’s lawyer, Steve Vettel, said the developer could consider a loading zone along the 19th Street side of the building to minimize delivery and ride-hail conflicts on the street.

A few people dismissed the contemporary design, by Ian Birchall and Associates, as out-of-place in the neighborhood.

The design is still flexible, and will go through further revisions to incorporate feedback from neighbors and the Planning Department. Vettel said the developer had come up with the current design, in part, to respect objections often heard from locals.

“We’ve heard that people don’t want glassy buildings,” he said.

Peter Papadopoulos of the Cultural Action Network raised another familiar request among anti-gentrification activists in the neighborhood: that the building’s commercial space be dedicated to production, distribution and repair work (“PDR”), or some other light industrial or trade-shop space.

The loss of gas stations and industrial buildings, Papadopoulos and others have said, eliminates locations where blue-collar workers can find employment.

“[Trade shop] is a pretty limited category of potential tenant,” Vettel said.

“We could help you find a tenant,” Papadopoulos responded.

Mission resident Kevin Ortiz pressed the developer on how the property could be changed to provide benefits for community groups and increase its level of inclusionary housing. Papadopoulos echoed this point, but it’s unclear neighbors will be able to reach a compromise with the developer.

Ortiz said the appearance of the building seemed it would attract “a higher-paying clientele,” and asked about the roughly 14 percent of units on site that would be below-market-rate.

“Is there anything we can do to up that? Right now, the Mission District is facing issues of gentrification and displacement,” he said.

Early on, the project design included 51 units with seven affordable. Toboni was able to increase that to 69 units with 10 affordable by adding two floors, thanks to a state rule that allows new projects to exceed local height limits if they build more affordable units. 

Toboni also said he would be willing to sell the site to the city to build a completely below-market-rate project, for about $260,000 a unit – an offer another developer elsewhere in the Mission has also tried to make to the city, based on the city’s purchase of 490 South Van Ness Avenue in 2015.

Subsidizing even more affordable units in the building would add costs that could sink the project, Toboni and Vettel argued.

“The cost to subsidize an affordable unit is $3- to $400,000. There’s just a limit to what a developer with no public subsidy can do,” Vettel said. “Joe paid top dollar for this site; it was a very competitive market.”

“We’d like to see more,” Papadopoulos insisted.

“I understand that,” Toboni responded.

The project still needs some approvals from the Planning Department before the Commission can look at it. After that, it will likely take another several months before a site permit is issued. Construction could begin by late spring or summer of 2018.

This story has been updated with additional information from the developer about his willingness to sell the property to the city for affordable housing.

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  1. Build it! Kaiser Glass has an awesome shop across the street. Huge. They’ve been there for decades (like me!) and were fine when this was a gas station. Not going anywhere (I think they own the building?), and they’re not protesting. This has been a vacant, rat-infested blighthole in my neighborhood for over a decade. Anything would be an improvement, and this project seems to have navigated the Byzantine hurdles necessary to get something done. Build it. BUILD IT NOW.

  2. Actually, a local glass company has been using this lot for years to stage their work. They do glasswork all over SF and have been in business for decades. “Displaces no one…abandoned wasteland” simply isn’t true.

    1. Actually, the glass company has always known they had use of this lot temporarily. Development on this lot has been in the works for years. Your comment is ignorant.

  3. These stories are so tired. This displaces no one or nothing but an abandoned wasteland. This should have been built 10 years ago. Please build it.