Supervisor Hillary Ronen has once again saved a project from the limbo of delays. A developer’s plan to build space for some 10 nonprofits to operate will go forward, following swift approval Tuesday by the full Board of Supervisors.
The project, at 1850 Bryant St., hit a snag when when homeowners in the neighboring building filed an appeal of the building’s planning approval, citing a variety of technical concerns about the construction plans.
But when Ronen stepped in, she found that what really seemed to be bothering the neighbors was a fear that major demolition and construction next door would be dangerous for their own building. (Who can blame them, given what happened with the demolition of a fire-damaged building at 22nd St., where the wall of a neighboring building was nearly torn off).
Ultimately, the parties came together and were able to assuage the neighbor’s fears. Once the appeal was withdrawn, the Board was able to confirm the Planning Department’s decision without debate.
“We talked about different engineering techniques, and the structural engineers on both sides talked to each other, and they were ultimately able to reach an agreement, which is a huge win for the Mission,” Ronen said.
The two-story warehouse, formerly home to an electrician’s business, will become a 172,000-square-foot building that will be partitioned up and sold, at 40 percent below market rate, to nonprofits as their permanent home.
The project is being developed by Common Ground Urban Development, founded by two former planners with backgrounds in affordable housing and nonprofit work.
Leiasa Beckham and Thor Kaslofsky started the project in response to a recent crisis among social-service organizations, which have faced rising rents and dramatic displacement pressures in recent years, according to a survey of Bay Area nonprofits.
“We’re super, super excited to get this going. This is such an important community resource that’s being built,” Kaslofsky said.
The supervisor, Bekham said, helped find a compromise on the project.
“Having her leadership certainty really allowed us to stay at the table and complete negotiations,” she said. “The more you delay things, the more expensive they get. I felt that she really understood that and prioritized that.”
Ronen said the the building offers a new take on how to solve the problem facing nonprofits.
Nearly 7,000 nonprofits in San Francisco employ around 17 percent of the city’s workforce.
Three groups have already expressed interest in moving into the building: Mission Neighborhood Centers, Horizons Unlimited and the San Francisco Conservation Corps.
“It could be a model for how we’re going to keep the nonprofits that are at risk of displacement here in San Francisco,” Ronen said.
This is just the latest in a string of such deals Ronen has helped work out.
Mediating requires sitting down with multiple parties, taking the time to hear concerns and then applying some common-sense problem-solving.
Ronen joked that it sometimes feels like there’s one such appeal a week.
Wouldn’t she rather be doing something else with her highly sought-after time as a legislator?
“Oh, no. I mean, I can’t imagine a better use of my time as a district supervisor,” Ronen said.
“The top issues facing District 9 are the homelessness crisis, affordable housing, displacement of tenants and businesses and neighborhood character. And, of course, always public safety. And with these developments, we’re constantly touching all of those issues.”
Until recently, she said, she was the only supervisor dealing with such an appeal in her district. Getting involved like this means advancing her own vision for the neighborhood and also taking into account what her voters want.
“We have an incredibly engaged constituency and you see it with these appeals,” she said. “One of the primary roles that I play [is] trying to find common ground and make these development projects happen, but make them happen in a way that provides a net community benefit.”