A laundromat and parking lot one block away from a major transit hub probably seems, to many, like an absolute no-brainer location for building a big chunk of housing.
Nothing is ever so simple.
“I know that the folks in the Mission want to say, ‘we’re special, you gotta reject this project because we’re special.’ But the truth is, this is happening in every neighborhood in the city,” said Tim Colen, senior adviser to the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition.
But perhaps this part of the Mission is special? This week’s Planning Commission hearing on 2918 Mission St. saw the 75-unit project delayed by two and a half months — with many on the Commission describing it as an idiosyncratic behemoth.
“Bulky,” said one commissioner, and later, “a bit out of character.”
According to Commissioner Kathrin Moore, building it as designed, with the same nearly 85-foot height spanning the width of its three lots near 25th Street, would be like “plopping a foreign object into this area and not thinking about the consequences.”
“Why hesitate?” asked some. “I challenge anybody to come up with a good reason why the biggest thing in the neighborhood shouldn’t be housing.” said Corey Smith, from the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition.
Not everyone is convinced that new construction alone will fix things.
“For anybody to stand up and say, ‘All we have to do is build more housing and not look at job creation,’ I’m going to laugh at you,” said Commissioner Dennis Richards. “That train has left the station. It’s so far down the tracks, I can’t even see it anymore.”
Back to the project at hand.
The Commission asked for some adjustments to the design to move it ahead — confusing to its developer, who has been taking design input from Planning Department staff for months.
Then there were the usual issues in the neighborhood. The 14.5 percent affordable housing allotment, up to snuff technically, didn’t impress any affordability advocates.
Wait a minute: eight of 75 units is only around 11 percent affordable, not 14.5? Ah yes, another rub: The extra comes from a state bonus program, which gives the developer allowance for more units, and the building that controversial bulk.
The bonus calculates affordability differently. That wasn’t a hit with Hillis, but he said, “we’re kind of handcuffed by the state.”
Same on the bulkiness issue — the state program determines how big the project can be. And the developer is not keen on downsizing.
“I am completely open to having my architects incorporating specific and clear design direction from the Planning Commission,” property owner Bob Tillman wrote to the department after the hearing. “I am not willing to have my architects chase their tails and to spend money having them do so.”
Most who came to criticize the project didn’t want it killed, just delayed — they’re holding out hope that a deal can be reached with the developer to sell the land, as he’s already offered to do, to a nonprofit or the city to build affordable housing.
They implied that the deal could be reached before the Commission meets again, so a new design or proposal can be tweaked to the liking of whoever would build below-market-rate housing there.
Because, if a nonprofit developer wanted to add a floor, even if housing there had been approved by the Commission before, the project would need to go through the process all over again.
Planning Commissioner Dennis Richards dismissed waiting for a deal as “supposition.” And, generally speaking, land is more attractive to any developer, nonprofit or otherwise, with permission to build already in hand.
Still, all six commissioners present voted to reconsider the project Nov. 30.
Tillman is already looking further down the road.
“It’s my opinion this is just going to end up in front of the Board of Supervisors one way or the other,” he said.
Help; where’s Hillary?