A laundromat ... and a gold mine. Photo by Lola Chavez.

The strange and terrible saga of the city’s “historic laundromat” at 2918 Mission St. came to an ostensible conclusion in April. That’s when, for $13.5 million, the property passed out of the hands of Robert Tillman — a man described by put-upon city officials as “not a developer” but “an ideologue doing a development” — to a traditional developer who’s likely more interested in making a building than a point.

That developer is Lawrence Lui. And two of his top lieutenants — Robert Walter, the general manager and senior vice president of Lui’s Cresleigh Homes and Jeremy Lui, a Cresleigh development manager — this week told Mission Local they’re intent on getting that building built, sooner rather than later. Both are hopeful that ground will be broken in a matter of months — by 2020, perhaps.

So, that’s new. But the building they envision is not. It would be the building Tillman bulldozed through the system, making few if any concessions and invoking state density bonuses to entitle an eight-story, 75-unit structure in the heart of the Mission that would be less than 11 percent affordable.

That sucks. That’s lame,” is how former planning commissioner Rodney Fong put it in 2017. Fong, incidentally, is no lefty: He was a mayoral appointee who has since left the commission to helm the Chamber of Commerce. And if the guy running the Chamber feels that way, you can only extrapolate how Mission anti-gentrification activists feel.

But this is the building Walter and Lui say they will build. Must build, in fact, because that’s the one the permits allow them to build. And, furthermore, that’s the building that led to the $13.5 million price tag.

“We paid full price for this property,” says Jeremy Lui.  

“That is what’s approved, and that is, in a way, what drove so many people bid on this,” Walter adds. “It’s fully approved. The permit is pulled. There’s no changing it.”

The builders emphasized that they want to be “good neighbors” and say they are reaching out to nearby residents and community organizations. But altering the building plans or augmenting the percentage of affordable units is not part of the conversation they wish to have.

“We’re not blind to some of the views we’re surrounded by here,” said Jeremy Lui. “But, to us, there’s nothing there right now. There’s zero affordable housing on-site now. We plan to build eight more affordable units and 75 more residential units than what’s there currently. We think we’re bringing value to the neighborhood through the production of those units.”

The proposed development from the back, bordering Osage Alley.

Cresleigh Homes, say its principals, had no overriding desire to get into the Mission. The goal, rather, was for the Sacramento-based company to break into the San Francisco market. This was its first successful bid after years of coming up short.

The laundromat was attractive not just because of its location but because it’s a fully entitled project. And that’s because of Tillman’s unapologetic crusade to extract maximum value for the site and not accept anything less — even if nonprofits and/or the city would have used it for housing the indigent or formerly homeless.

As such, he was made to surmount a number of legal and procedural hurdles. The city delayed Tillman’s plans on multiple occasions: In 2018 he was mandated to underwrite a 137-page study examining if the laundromat was a “historic resource” (it was not). Later that year, his project was put on hold so more work could be done to analyze the impact of potential future shadows across an adjacent school’s playgrounds — at hours it would be open to the public if that school was participating in the city’s San Francisco Shared Schoolyard Project. It is not.

That prompted a lawsuit from Tillman in August 2018. In October 2018, however, the city quietly capitulated, and Tillman’s project was discreetly approved.

The laundromat’s new owners — who are also, temporarily, in the laundromat business — aim to have better relations with the community than their predecessor. But, in yet another challenge emanating from this site, they aim to do so without altering their predecessor’s polarizing plans.

Just how they aim to thread this needle remains to be seen.  

“We’ve been good members of every community we’ve been in,” assures Walter. “We want to be one here, too.”

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Managing Editor/Columnist. Joe was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left.

“Your humble narrator” was a writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015, and a senior editor at San Francisco Magazine from 2015 to 2017. You may also have read his work in the Guardian (U.S. and U.K.); San Francisco Public Press; San Francisco Chronicle; San Francisco Examiner; Dallas Morning News; and elsewhere.

He resides in the Excelsior with his wife and three (!) kids, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

The Northern California branch of the Society of Professional Journalists named Eskenazi the 2019 Journalist of the Year.

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  1. “bulldozed through the system”? You must be joking. He was delayed five years on a property zoned for housing in an area with a housing shortage. Glad to see somebody has finally fought back and won against the corrupt city officials.

  2. Great journalism! It is true, the Mission area in particular has suffered from a focus only on luxury housing. Throughout the area, the impact of building luxury only housing is witnessed not just in the constant displacement of the working class, but also in the increase in homelessness as locals lose their affordable housing to profiteers. Nasty business housing for profit, ,isn’t it?!

  3. Joe, we need housing for everyone. Your snide tone and consistent bias against inclusionary housing does your journalism no favors.

    All Tillman did was follow the letter of the law. The reason we have a housing shortage is because San Francisco’s bureaucrats and Mission “activists” refuse to do the same.

  4. Just checking in to wish a very nice morning to all my friends from the construction and real estate communities here in the comments.

  5. Wow, the writer is clearly biased against this completely legal and housing-advancing building. He writes a good article but we can all do without the writer’s smart-ass comments.

  6. Welcome to San Francisco, Mr. Lui, Mr. Walter, and Mr. Lui. I wish you luck with building this building and hope that this new housing is available as soon as possible. We need it here. Please do not be bullied into making additional “concessions”. The project already has its approvals and permits, now is the time to build. When the site was recently floated as a possible 100% affordable development, everyone said: “but the city is out of money for those projects, it will never get built.” So thank you for bringing additional housing to our city, which needs it badly.

  7. It looks like a great project, in a city where housing is desperately needed, and walkable to a major transportation hub.