Google street view of 3832 18th St., which will be demolished and replaced by a new group housing project.

The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to halt construction of a six-story group-housing project on 18th Street after neighbors argued that it was too tall. Instead, the supervisors approved an alternate version of the project that maintains the same number of units, but lops off one story — a move attorneys say is illegal. 

Still, supervisors heralded the five-story compromise, originally suggested by the Planning Commission last fall, as a solution that addresses local concerns without sacrificing homes.

“I think that matters for developers, and for neighbors,” said Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who oversees the district where the project will be built. “We can have more density without radically transforming neighborhoods and losing this city.”

Originally, developers MJ Mission Dolores LLC proposed a six-story, 19-unit group-housing project at 3832 18th St., near Church and Sanchez streets. “Group housing” is generally defined as units without a fully functioning kitchen, such as Single Room Occupancy buildings and fraternity houses. The project also includes three affordable units out of the total 19, an amount that remains unchanged.

Alarmed neighbors like Thanos Diacakis, the main appellant and a neighbor who has lived on 18th Street for more than a dozen years, fought the project for months. When Diacakis appealed the project to the Planning Commission last summer, he told Mission Local he worried about shadows cast by the new building. The State Density Bonus Law, which allows more height if a certain number of units are affordable, enabled the project to be six stories. Diacakis and neighbors objected to the bonus, saying it would make the project two stories taller than neighboring ones.

“To summarize here, the developers want to build units to serve a few folks that can afford them,” said Diacakis on Tuesday. “They want to jam this gigantic structure in the middle of a small lot, not caring about any of the consequences around them and for the people that live in the neighborhood.” 

Numerous neighbors backed him up in public comment, bemoaning how the building would block light, affecting residents and their gardens. 

“Please do not beach this enormous whale in our neighborhood,” said 30-year 18th Street resident Gary Pedler. 

Diacakis acknowledged that he and other neighbors ideally wanted the house to have only six units. But last summer and again on Tuesday he appeared satisfied with Mandelman’s compromise that maintained the 19 units. 

The Planning Commission took that to heart, and in fall 2021 voted 4-2 to approve the group-housing project on the condition that the developers eliminate one story from the plan, meaning the two units on the top floor would be added to the ground floor, and wipe out approximately 15 bike spaces and communal kitchen. (Now, five bike spaces will be provided, which is up to code; that kitchen is unnecessary to meet group housing standards, city planner Jeffrey Horn said.)

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However, attorneys for the developers wrote to the Board of Supervisors on March 14 that this would cost one unit of housing and most of the communal kitchen space, making the building financially infeasible and creating code compliance issues. Changes would violate the House Accountability Act and the State Density Bonus Law by whittling the granted six stories to five.

The attorney Ryan J. Patterson added on Tuesday that the commission’s recommendation for a five-story building doesn’t stand because the city surpassed its legally mandated time limit for such action, and suggested even if the Board disagrees, the original six-story plan is presently legal.  

After the developer’s presentation, Mandelman snubbed a potential lawsuit and admonished the developers for being unwilling to work with neighbors or provide feedback on their designs. “We talked, and the talking didn’t lead to compromise,” he said. “It has felt to me like that this exercise has been a set-up for litigation against the city.” 

Patterson declined to comment, citing lack of his firm’s authorization to respond. The architecture firm SIA Consulting did not respond in time for publication; the managing member of MJ Mission Dolores LLC, James Nunemacher, was reached and declined to comment.

Rafa Sonnenfeld from YIMBY Law, the legal arm of housing advocacy group YIMBY Action that is following the matter, told Mission Local, “it’s unfortunate that the Board of Supervisors decided to uphold the Planning Commission’s decision, because it’s illegal.” YIMBY Law has sued the city over other recent controversial housing decisions.

YIMBY Law is “still evaluating” whether it would sue the city for the decision, but Sonnenfeld said, “certainly, it appears Mandelman is aware that approving the project is inviting a lawsuit.”

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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.

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  1. I am wondering if this is truly a building that cannot be renovated. From the photo, it looks like a Victorian that will be demolished and a large five or six story building constructed. That seems out of scale for the neighborhood. That’s the local angle, and as a longtime SF resident invested in my City’s health, I appreciate concerned and involved neighbors. The prevalent voice that pushes more housing construction is missing the question on why we have excess commercial construction, why we have so many high-need and possibly dangerous people on the streets (“affordable” units won’t solve that), environmental costs of demolition and re-building, and what we are doing about the long-time corruption in City departments that oversee construction projects. I hope we can have more thorough and balanced conversations and not jump to quick solutions with negative, although perhaps unintended, consequences.

    1. It’s not up to you or me to determine that, though, since state law allows the construction of the larger building. What you’re saying is just an aesthetic opinion, why you’re allowed to have, but doesn’t change whether or not the developers have a legal right to build as designed.

  2. > Originally, developers MJ Mission Dolores LLC proposed a six-story, 19-unit group-housing project at 3832 18th St., near Church and Sanchez streets. “Group housing” is generally defined as units without a fully functioning kitchen, such as Single Room Occupancy buildings and fraternity houses. The project also includes three affordable units out of the total 19, an amount that remains unchanged.

    Can you clarify this? I assumed “group housing” was to get affordable units, but this sounds more like a tech bro crash pad. What will rent on the “not affordable units” be? Market rate?

    Also, that removal of the communal kitchen is allowed by code?

    Does that mean this place will be acceptable to people who can afford 100%

    1. Uber Eats/Doordash
    2. Restaurants?

    This place sounds like a subsidy for rich tech brows paid for by all San Franciscans

    1. The proposed project is essentially (19) “mini-studios” (catering to the needs of singles) each with their own bathroom and kitchenette (aka “limited cooking facilities”); consisting of a refrigerator, 2-burner cooktop, convection microwave (so you can bake/brown meals) and a small sink.

      No need to depend on take-out or food delivery as that is pretty much all one needs. For instance, who needs — or even uses — on a daily basis a 4 or 5-burner range?

    2. Hi Jay,
      Thanks for reading and the thoughtful questions. The group housing question is a tad complicated, especially because the Board of Supervisors and Planning have recently expressed feelings that the definition of group housing at present has at times been abused and/or not used correctly. I’m not saying that this is happening here (as it abides by current definition). Others who did call into the meeting did have similar questions as you and characterized it as possible a “tech crash pad,” though I do not feel comfortable stating that will happen, as the demolition of the old building still has yet to happen, and thus these condos are not listed. But, they will be for-sale condos and not affordable in this context means market-rate.

      The planner working on the project who spoke yesterday stated at the meeting that the removal of the kitchen, or the removal any other amenities caused by the new Planning Commission draft, does not violate Group Housing codes; the attorneys representing the developers state the loss would create compliance issues.

      Hope that is helpful.
      Best,
      Annika

  3. How can they sue over project that produces the same number of units as the alternative higher project? The project should be cheaper to produce if they remove story.

    1. The State Density Bonus Law (SDBL), provides project sponsors with a great amount of latitude on how to best configure their projects.

      Just recently a San Diego SDBL case upheld this very principle.

      By lopping off the top floor and cramming the units into the lower levels, the City has overstepped it’s authority in this case, is in violation of the SDBL and the project sponsor should sue.

      The SDBL has been challenged a number of times since its inception and the challengers have lost every time, resulting in a continual strengthening the law.

      Most recently, City opposition — led by the feckless Supervisor Ronen — to a SDBL project at 2918 Mission (aka the “historic laundromat”) was forced to backdown upon the sage advice of the City Attorney as those found in violation of the SDBL are on the hook for all legal fees which can add up to a considerable $um.

      1. @Karl – And they should hire Zacks, Freedman, and Patterson to clean up on that considerable legal $um, am I right? Patterson there drumming up business? What’s good for the goose is good for the gander?