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.”
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.
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.”