628 Shotwell St. Photo taken by Annika Hom, December 2021.

Neighbors are making a final play to prevent a former board and care facility on Shotwell Street from turning into a residential apartment. But if the decision goes according to the Planning Department recommendation, that won’t happen.

Jacque Patton, a concerned neighbor and housing advocate, is asking  the Planning Commission to review and reject a proposed seven-bedroom duplex at 628 Shotwell St. during a hearing Thursday. 

Patton wants the property to be restored as a board and care facility, which is a key housing type for seniors and disabled individuals. In recent years, city officials have sounded alarms that board and care facilities are disappearing at rapid rates. 

Removing the residential care facility zoning and proceeding with this duplex will mean “a reduction of services and community services for disabled and low-income folks.” 

“The city talks a big game,” Patton continued, adding the city should help buy the property. “Here’s the opportunity to run one.”

However, the Planning Department recommended to the commission to ignore the review and approve the new housing project, given that no current board and care clients currently live there and that the city is in desperate need of housing. The building has been vacant since a 2015 fire

The Planning Department recommendation also noted that despite opportunities for the community to step in and buy the property — albeit at a roughly $700,000 markup — ultimately no offers materialized. 

Nevertheless, multiple community groups and neighbors like Patton argue the property should remain zoned as a board and care facility, or at least maintain its community serving purpose by converting into a community space instead. A market rate project is the last thing the neighborhood needs, she argued.  

“I’ve been talking to lots of the neighbors and they are on the same page. It makes the neighborhood more unaffordable and pushes people out who are living here,” Patton said. 

At least six clients lived on the ground floor of the board and care on 628 Shotwell St., until a fire in 2015 damaged the building and displaced the tenants. 

In 2019, real estate developers Mel Murphy, Luke O’Brien and James Kavanaugh bought the building for $1.35 million and submitted plans to convert the use from residential care facility to residential. Originally developers planned to build a duplex with five bedrooms total, a move community members said would turn the place from a community resource into a luxury “mansion.” 

The outrage worsened for some after learning the owners’ history. Two of the current Shotwell owners – Murphy and his wife – were previously accused of violating state and city housing law and engaging in “unlawful, unfair, and/or fraudulent” business practices with several of their residential properties. The couple denied several allegations, and the lawsuit settled in 2018. Calls to Mel Murphy and Luke O’Brien were not immediately returned; this article will be updated if they respond.  

Eventually, the owners agreed to sell the property to keep it as a board and care facility, and gave nonprofits a chance to buy it to the tune of $2 million. They also increased the bedroom count to seven after community input, planning documents stated.

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Since December 2020, nonprofits and housing groups like Mission Economic Development Agency, United to Save the Mission, and HomeRise (formerly known as Community Housing Partnership) expressed their intentions to buy 628 Shotwell with the city’s help. That has not happened. 

Sara Shortt, the director of public policy and community organizing at HomeRise, said it proved difficult to buy without city assistance. Plus, rehabilitation costs for the fire damage could add significant costs on top of the $2 million asking price. 

“We are still working on it and trying to get interest, and have the conversations with all parties, but this is going to take a lot of money to make happen,” Shortt said. 

Sans buyout, organizers are running out of options. Legislation that is supposed to make it harder for developers to change the use of a board and care facility doesn’t apply to 628 Shotwell based on a technicality, according to the Planning Department. That legislation applies only to board and care facilities operating within three years before developers request to change the use; however, 628 Shotwell ceased operation after the 2015 fire, and developers submitted project plans in 2019. 

Even if the rule doesn’t apply, “It still shouldn’t be allowed,” said neighbor Jeff Giaquinto, who supports keeping 628 Shotwell as a board and care. “We don’t believe the conversion is necessary.”

On the other hand, several other neighbors applauded the idea of filling the yearslong vacant building. The building has received nearly 100 complaints since its vacancy, planning documents state. According to letters sent to the Planning Department, those living nearby criticized the ubiquity of unhoused residents, trash, graffiti and drugs.

The revised project plans — including one unit with five bedrooms and a second unit with two bedrooms — could appeal greatly to San Francisco families, too, according to the owner and the Planning Department.

This item will be heard at the Planning Commission, which takes place on Thursday, Dec. 16. at 1:00 p.m. 

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REPORTER. Annika Hom is our inequality reporter through our partnership with Report for America. Annika was born and raised in the Bay Area. She previously interned at SF Weekly and the Boston Globe where she focused on local news and immigration. She is a proud Chinese and Filipina American. She has a twin brother that (contrary to soap opera tropes) is not evil.

Follow her on Twitter at @AnnikaHom.

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