Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

Developers wait for Castro plans


Developer Angus McCarthy. Photo: Rick Gerharter
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Attention turns once again to development issues in the Castro this weekend as planners will host the second meeting in a series of design workshops meant to limit the impact of new construction on the city's gay neighborhood.

Watching intently are developers of several projects along Market Street who have seen the approval process for their plans bog down due to inaction on the part of city officials. Along with the Castro design review process, known as a charette, which was due to be completed last year, the city has yet to finalize what is known as the Market Octavia Plan.

The plan covers a large swatch of Market Street and the Board of Supervisors is expected to approve it this fall. Until that happens, developers of several key corner lots along one of the gayborhood's main corridors find themselves in limbo.

Adding to the uncertainty is what guidelines will come out of the Castro charette process by which the builders will be required to adhere. Planners have put a stop on any projects from going before the Planning Commission until the charette process is completed, sometime in early 2008.

In the meantime, some developers are moving forward on the environmental impact reports for certain projects. Tom Fong, the owner of the triangular parcel on Market Street near Sanchez and 15th streets went ahead and demolished the Shell gas station at the site.

Fong could not be reached for comment, but the city planner charged with overseeing Fong's and several other Market Street projects said, to date, Fong and the other owners have yet to show him any plans for the sites.

"I have a number of sites out there that have shown some interest in doing a project. They are all waiting on the Market Octavia Plan," said planner Rick Crawford.

As for the former Shell site, Crawford said he has never seen any proposal from Fong other than a request to demolish and remove the gas station.

"It certainly is a very visible corner, and because of that, it is an important site," said Crawford. "What we would like to see on there is a mixed-use project with ground floor commercial and upper story residential units."

Hole in the ground

Perhaps the parcel generating the most attention and concern among Castro residents and business owners is the empty hole in the ground at the intersection of 16th, Market, and Noe streets. Vacant for decades after an arsonist burned down a church that previously stood at the site, the parcel sits at a major focal point for the area.

Over the years the site has been eyed for everything from a community center to housing for queer youth to a theater space and most recently the home of the GLBT Historical Society's planned museum and archival center.

Local developer Angus McCarthy purchased the property this summer, and while he has declined to disclose the sale price, it is rumored to have been at least $3.5 million. He attended the first charette meeting last month and plans to attend this weekend's workshop.

He told the Bay Area Reporter this week he had hired San Francisco-based firm Ian Birchall + Associates to begin working on schematic designs of what the exterior and layout of the building will look like.

McCarthy said he is still unsure what his final plans for the site will be, as the charette process will shape it. He expects to have a finished concept sometime next year.

"We really don't know. We are still talking, trying to put ideas together to see what makes the best sense economically for us and for the community," said McCarthy. "When we have a comfortable design we think is presentable, we will make that presentation to the community. A lot of the design will be based on the feedback we are getting from the workshops."

He said he wants to build a signature building on the property and is aware of the various elements people would like to see incorporated into the structure.

"It is the gateway to the Castro, is how I see it," he said. "Hiring signature architects is a huge factor for us."

McCarthy has spent nearly two decades building projects in the city and boasted he has had "lots of success" working with various neighborhoods.

"I listen first," he said. "When you enter a community like this, that is vibrant and has a lot of community input, you make a big mistake by coming in with your own ideas. It is better to incorporate the community's ideas."

Builder Brian Spiers has encountered vocal opposition from neighbors of his proposed project at the site now home to a 76 gas station on Market Street at Buchanan. The 22,500 square foot property is another gateway to the upper Market and Castro area, as commuters from Highway 101 who exit onto Duboce Street funnel onto Market directly in front of the lot. Spiers paid $10 million for it two years ago.

He hired the world-renowned firm Arquitectonica to draw up plans for the site, which have evolved since he first disclosed it to a local business journal in 2006. The current plans call for a glass paneled building set back from the street with a corner restaurant space and outdoor patio on the ground floor and two other storefronts along Market Street.

Spiers, a San Francisco native whose brother is gay, owns the Lucky 13 bar up the street. He said the new building is intended to pick up on the modern design of the nearby LGBT Community Center.

"This is my biggest project. I wanted to do a really spectacular building," said Spiers, who plans to operate the restaurant himself, as the Lucky 13 site is itself slated to be redeveloped.

There would be 113 condo units in the eight-story building, with an underground 90-space parking garage entered into from Buchanan. The mix of one and two bedrooms will range from 750 square feet to 1,344 square feet. He plans to set aside 17 units as below market rate housing.

"I am hoping through the charette process people will really see what the building looks like and we will get a lot of neighborhood support," said Spiers. "This is an ideal in-fill site to do something positive."

He said the building will stand 85-feet in height, similar to the building housing the Orbit Room at the other end of the block.

But already some of his neighbors have banded together under the banner of  "Save My View" to oppose the project. As one nearby resident said at the last charette meeting, their main objection is the project's proposed 85 foot height limit.

"We are going to be looking at the canyonization of Market Street," said the man.

The second Upper Market Design Workshop takes place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, October 27 at the Harvey Milk School at 4235 19th Street across from Collingwood Park.

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