Robert Tillman, the self-described “newbie developer,” was on Tuesday foiled again by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in his efforts to develop a 75-unit building on Mission Street between 25th and 26th streets. It is currently the site of a laundromat he owns.
The board voted unanimously to uphold an appeal of the project, saying that not enough analysis has been undertaken regarding the effects of the proposed eight-story structure’s shadows, which it would cast over the playgrounds of a neighboring preschool. That area is slated to be used as public space in the near future.
It’s unclear how the city will proceed with the additional review — or how long it will take. Tillman says he plans to sue the city, depending on whether the city can justify the delay through its findings in its additional shadow analysis.
“My only alternative, if I want to take this project through, is to file a lawsuit against the city,” he said following Tuesday’s decision. He said that he has exhausted all administrative avenues and has no other option.
The decision is only the latest chapter in a fierce battle over whether the 75-unit project — which would price 11 percent of its units as affordable — will ultimately come to fruition. The Planning Commission approved the project in November, but a final green light was delayed at the Board of Supervisors in February, pending a study of whether the building was a historic resource.
Under state law, Tillman was allowed to add more units to his project while lowering the overall affordable component to 11 percent, from the 12 percent then required by the city.
Many longtime Mission District residents argue that the project will only further the gentrification and displacement in the once predominantly working-class Latino neighborhood — concerns District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen ultimately sympathized with at the meeting. Pro-housing advocates, meanwhile, argued that the major hurdles the project has faced are indicative of why housing is drastically underbuilt here.
Tillman charged that Tuesday’s action by the Board of Supervisors was potentially illegal. His attorney, David H. Blackwell, outlined his case in an 11-page letter sent to the board on Monday. “There’s nothing else I can do; they have made their decision,” Tillman told Mission Local following Tuesday’s proceedings. “They have to come up with findings that justify their decision, and they’re going to have a difficult time doing that.”
Ronen took issue with the fact that the environmental review, which did analyze the effects of the proposed building’s shadows on the schoolyards, did not consider the shadow’s impacts on the schoolyards when they become public space. This is the plan under the city’s forthcoming Shared Schoolyards Program. The program would open school playgrounds to the general public during non-school hours.
The decision followed a public comment session in which the project’s opponents expressed worry over its potential impacts on Zaida T. Rodriguez Preschool, which sits on Bartlett Street behind the proposed site. Opponents argued the constructions will kick up dust and noise, as well as shadows once the project is built.
They also bemoaned the loss of their neighborhood. “This project does sit in the middle of many of our community anchors,” one opponent to the project said during public comment. “None of the people who have lived here are going to move into that building.”
Scott Weaver, a lawyer for the merchant’s association Calle 24, which filed the appeal on the project, argued that the shadows, dust and noise would affect the students at the school. “Has the city done all that it can to make sure the children are safe?” he asked.
Weaver also argued that the number of units developed in the Mission has surpassed what is allowed by a city plan for the neighborhood — called the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan — creating no need for the development.
Officials from the city’s Planning Department refuted Weaver’s argument. They said that their environmental review concluded that the project’s construction would not have a negative impact on the children – and the shadows would not negatively affect the students. They also said the project was consistent with the city’s interpretation of the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan.
Ronen did not take issue with those specific findings. She, instead, focused on shadows on the schoolyard as a potential public space. Before moving to uphold the appeal, however, she indicated that her decision to continue the matter ultimately rested with the community’s concerns.
To supporters of the appeal, mostly longtime Mission District residents, she said: “I hear you and the pain that’s been caused from the uneven development in the Mission [that] has decimated the community and changed it in ways that are unfair to low-income and Latino community.”
She also took aim at Tillman. “He is exploiting the process for his own personal gain,” she said. “He knows he can get more money if he can sell this land if it’s entitled than when it’s not.”
Tillman told Mission Local that his intentions have never been a secret. He said he has, on multiple occasions, offered to sell the land to anyone who wants to use it for affordable housing.
For Tillman, however, any affordable housing there would come at a market-rate price.
As such, he claims he’s already turned down a not-yet-financed $9 million offer by the Mission Economic Development Agency. Tillman said the offer was only 50 percent of the property’s value.
“I want to maximize value on something I own,” he said.
But now, to do so, he will have to wait a bit longer.