The Planning Commission voted 4 to 2 Thursday to approve the demolition of 1068 Florida St., a site where, in 2018, a demolition contractor tore down part of the building without any permits.
While the commissioners and neighborhood residents lamented the illegal demolition, the majority of the commission generally agreed that adding a new building would be preferable to keeping the property as it is: a derelict home to vermin and trash.
“There’s, like, a million raccoons living there, and the tarp flaps so loud,” said Nora Barber, who moved in a few doors from the site two years ago. “Something has to be done about this; it can’t stay like this forever.”
The structure at 1068 Florida St. became an eyesore three years ago, after workers ripped out its second floor without any permits. Neighbors awoke to a racket, then surveyed the damage as the dust settled: a half-destroyed house, construction workers sans protective gear, and a textbook illegal demolition.
Property owner Matthew Miller and his architect, Gregory Smith, claimed under oath they had no knowledge of the demolition and blamed the demolition contractors — who have claimed they showed up at the wrong address and mixed up 1068 Florida St. with another house they were supposed to demolish.
At Thursday’s meeting, Miller and Smith requested permission to demolish the rest of the structure in order to construct a four-story, two-unit building with a rent-controlled accessory dwelling unit.
A lawyer representing Miller and Smith, urged the commission to not “treat this project more harshly” than others, in spite of its past.
Planning Department staffers were amenable to this approach, having earlier recommended the commission approve the project.
CommissionersTheresa Imperial and Kathrin Moore were the only dissenting votes. Commissioner Deland Chan was absent.
The property owner Miller, notorious for evicting an elderly Chinese family in 2013, was in 2019 chewed out by Ed Sweeney, then the Deputy Director of Inspections of the Department of Building Inspection. Miller was ordered to clean up the mess.
The property owners followed the DBI order by covering the site with a tarp, according to a recently submitted letter from his lawyer, John Kevlin, addressed to the Planning Department.
He also reached a settlement in a lawsuit against the contractor in which “the contractor will pay Project Sponsor for the extensive damages caused by the unpermitted demolition to the Property. Furthermore, in deposition testimony under oath, the contractor indicated that the Project Sponsor did not authorize any demolition work at the Property. Under oath, the contractor further indicated that a demolition crew mistakenly went to the wrong property address.”
Some neighbors were happy to move on, citing the ugly blight and detritus. “I’m glad they’re going to finally do something with it. There will be less rats for the neighborhood cat,” said one neighbor who moved in a year ago and declined to be named.
“It looks bad the way it is,” said Tony Ruiz, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than 20 years.
For the Planning Commissioners less inclined to forgive and forget, however, the involvement on this project of some of the city’s most notorious development figures remained a disturbing element.
A report submitted for Thursday’s meeting recounted how Rodrigo Santos’ former company, Santos & Urrutia, performed an initial engineering inspection here; later in 2018, the City Attorney charged him and his company with fraud and forgery.
Commissioner Kathrin Moore noted Santos’ involvement in the case and said the property’s history was “shrouded in mystery.” Looking past the past is one thing, Moore continued, but she was concerned that the Planning Commission is becoming a “Forgiveness Commission.”
“I am troubled,” she said, “by the fact that we are again and again being asked to approve something that no one else wants to touch.”