The long game may just be starting to pan out for the developer brothers Chris and Brian Elsey.
After four years, a 149-unit group housing project at 401 South Van Ness Ave. near 15th Street moved one step closer to development on Thursday, when the Planning Commission unanimously approved a special permit the project needed.
The four-year process, however, also means the project can incidentally abandon its previous 25 percent affordability requirement and slash it to just over 15 percent, thanks to city legislation that took effect approximately two weeks ago.
“Fortunately, this project is going to be one of the first ones out of the gate to be able to take advantage of” the new law, said land-use attorney John Kelvin of Reuben, Junius and Rose LLP, who spoke on behalf of the developers. Chris Elsey is opting to keep 15 percent affordability to access the state density bonus, Kelvin said, allowing the team to build taller and denser than they could otherwise have done.
However, Elsey posited that even the market-rate units would be cheaper than other housing nearby. “We do have the mandated inclusionary component, but the rest of the units, we feel like, will be hitting within those [income] ranges to be attainable for residents within the community,” he said.
This is the second of two formerly controversial group housing projects Chris and Brian Elsey, Kansas-based developers, floated in the Mission. On Thursday, Chris Elsey presented the latest project iteration of 401 South Van Ness Ave., which showed how the individual group housing units — typically a dorm-like setting — will have a kitchenette and an individual bathroom. The project, now undertaken by Elsey’s business, Prime Company, was submitted before a group housing definition was amended to exclude small individual kitchens, meaning it is exempt. The project also includes a co-working space, space for community groups, and a pool and spa, and will have ground-floor commercial.
It’s now the second project Elsey has moved forward in the same area. The notorious 189-unit “sister” group housing project, located at 1500 15th St., passed the Planning Commission this January after Mission organizations fought it for eight years.
“This is the same song, second verse,” Elsey said.
Whether the recent lower inclusionary requirements frustrate Mission neighborhood organizations is yet to be seen. Regardless, nothing can be done about it. Back in 2016, the Elsey brothers faced stark neighborhood opposition over the projects, specifically stemming from the group United to Save the Mission, which argued that the units and price wouldn’t be attractive to the Mission residents who are most at risk of displacement.
But all may be in the past. As Elsey and his staff noted Thursday, eventually the developers penned a memorandum of understanding with the group, and agreed to change their original design to gain approval. It’s unclear, however, if the former opponents were aware of the new lower inclusionary requirement.
Elsey highlighted that the project includes 21,000 square feet for community space, roughly 10 times the minimum mandate, he said.
And, despite fewer affordable units, there were other concessions to United To Save the Mission, agreed upon previously.
As presented Thursday, the 401 South Van Ness Ave. designers revised the project’s building shape, reduced bedroom sizes and increased heights, agreed to add murals, and will use carpenter labor for construction. A few public commenters, including union members and native Mission contractors desperate for work, voiced approval.
The commissioners were impressed. “I, among commissioners, can grouse at group housing projects from time to time,” commission president Rachael Tanner said. “But, perhaps in contrast to some other examples, this one is very thoughtfully designed.”
Tanner added that the project’s amenities seem more attractive than even some non-group-housing designs the commission had seen.
While the 1500 15th St. project proposal mentioned the memorandum of understanding between Elsey and United to Save the Mission, it is unclear whether 401 South Van Ness Ave. also included one. To ensure the language was binding, Commissioner Kathrin Moore suggested adding the memorandum to the item before the commission approved its permit.
Kelvin took the request in stride. “We’ve got a binding agreement, and we wouldn’t mind memorializing that,” he said.