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.)
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.”