Six years of agitation for and against residential project come to a head Thursday


San Francisco Planning Commission on Thursday afternoon will hold one of the neighborhood’s most anticipated hearings this year — a showdown between neighborhood activists and the developer of a proposed 331-unit housing development at 16th and Mission.

I hope to make it out alive,” said Planning Commissioner Dennis Richards, who has seen his share of raucous meetings.

Indeed, this meeting — scheduled for 4 p.m. at Mission High School, where the auditorium holds not quite 2,000 people — promises to be loud, crowded, and long (the Planning Commission limited the hearing to four hours). And it’s unclear what, exactly, will be accomplished. It was ostensibly called so that Maximus Real Estate Partners, the project’s developer, can present its new community benefits package to the commission and community members, and for community members to say what they think about it.

But for years, Maximus and members of the Plaza 16 Coalition, the project’s organized opposition, have been unwilling to budge on their wildly different visions for the site.

Maximus, despite one informal community benefits concession after another, continues to push for a mostly market-rate project. Meanwhile, members of the Plaza 16 Coalition have steadily called for a 100-percent affordable development.

“We are very much looking forward to finally setting the record straight as to why the Monster is not the right project for the site, the neighborhood and the city,” said Chirag Bhakta of the Plaza 16 Coalition.

The coalition, he said, would be presenting its own proposal for the site — a 100-percent affordable project with ground-floor social services. “The Marvel in the Mission is the final product of a nine-month community process,” he said.

By contrast, late last month Maximus presented a portion of its “best and final” community benefits offer to District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen. The developer would grant two fully entitled sites elsewhere in the Mission to the city and would contribute an unspecified amount of money to build affordable housing on those sites.

It remains unclear what the proposal is,” Ronen told Mission Local, noting that Maximus has not formally submitted any paperwork to the city.

Ronen said that if Maximus committed to building 192 affordable units elsewhere in the Mission, she would consider it. At this point, she said, she struggles to see how feasible that would be.

For starters, Maximus does not yet own the sites: One is a fully entitled 117-unit site at 2675 Folsom St. and another is entitled for 75 units at 2918 Mission St. (currently the site of a laundromat). Maximus would first have to buy both entitled sites — presumably for dozens of millions of dollars — and then actually build the affordable housing. That could cost about $115 million more, considering the average affordable housing unit requires $600,000 to erect.

Robert Tillman, the owner of the entitled laundromat site, said that he is, indeed, in touch with Maximus about the site, but it’s just one of many potential buyers. “They have the ability to get it if they need it,” Tillman said. “They can pay me the best price and close on the best deal.”

He has set no asking price. “Its worth will be determined by the market,” he said.

Maximus representatives said it would take the issue to voters, and sponsor a ballot initiative if its proposal is rejected.

Joe Arellano, a spokesman for Maximus, declined to confirm any details of the proposal. But, speaking generally about the hearing, he said: “We plan to present a separate, new proposal. We look forward to hearing comments from all sides of the community as well as the commission.”  

For his part, Richards said he hopes no one gets hurt at the meeting. He wants there to be “metal detectors and sheriffs” for security, just like at City Hall. In the past, he said, he’s seen project sponsors and appellants say during hearings, “if I had a gun, I’ll shoot you.”

“I want to make it safe,” Richards said. He doesn’t condone threats, but “Emotions run high, and rightly so.” The project is “dead center in the heart of the community. I get the importance of it.”