Gay health center triggers
Castro zoning change
by Matthew S. Bajko
Plans to construct a nearly 15,000 square foot gay men's health center in the heart of the Castro is triggering the need for a zoning change in the city's LGBT district.
Last October the San Francisco AIDS Foundation announced it had leased the building at 474 Castro Street in order to combine three of its programs into one location and expand its services ranging from HIV testing to substance use counseling.
It turns out that current planning rules governing the Castro business district restrict any single nonresidential use from exceeding 4,000 square feet. Unless the prohibition is changed, the health center would be dead on arrival at the planning commission.
To help facilitate the planning review, gay District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener has introduced a zoning text amendment that would allow a nonprofit to apply for a conditional use permit to occupy a single property exceeding 4,000 square feet in the Castro Street Neighborhood Commercial District.
The planning commission is set to vote on it at its Thursday, June 13 meeting when the oversight body will also hold a hearing on the project itself. In addition to requesting a conditional use permit, foundation officials are seeking permission to add a 3,600 square foot, one-story (8 foot high) addition to the building, formerly home to Superstar Video on the ground floor and a number of health offices upstairs.
"It is zoned for retail. What they are proposing is not retail, it is a medical services health care clinic," said Wiener. "Technically, that is not allowed under the Castro Street NCD zoning. The legislation I am proposing would allow for this use."
The current rules were instituted so that office-type uses would not crowd out retailers along Castro Street, explained Wiener. Yet a health center such as the one proposed by the AIDS foundation is an "appropriate use" of a Castro storefront, he added.
"You want to have active street frontage and uses so that is why we want to have retail. There are some uses, such as the one that the AIDS foundation is proposing, that are in every way as active as retail," said Wiener. "In some ways this is going to be more active. ... It will bring more foot traffic to Castro Street and help surrounding businesses."
It is the second time Wiener has sought zoning revisions in the Castro that would benefit specific locations. At its May 7 meeting the Board of Supervisors is set to finalize planning code changes sought by Fitness SF, which wants to add housing and more gym space, and Cafe Flore, which is seeking to legalize an off-site kitchen.
As previously reported by the Bay Area Reporter , the AIDS foundation has long wanted to secure a larger location in the Castro to consolidate its programs. The search was pushed along by the fact that the lease for Magnet, its current gay men's health center on 18th Street, is up in September.
Foundation officials expect it will be extended through the end of the year, as they do not anticipate being able to relocate the clinic into the new space until early 2014. Should the project be approved, construction would start later this summer.
The staffs of the Stonewall Project, which provides drug counseling programs, and the Stop AIDS Project, which focuses on HIV prevention, will also be housed at the new site. The health center is expected to have a new name, and foundation officials are currently interviewing "a handful" of applicants to be the executive director of the new facility, said James Loduca, SFAF's vice president for philanthropy and public affairs.
Foundation officials began meeting with neighborhood groups this week to update them on the health center proposal. The plan calls for creating a lobby area with a fireplace fronting the street but the exact design and floor plan is still being worked out.
"Everything is still very conceptual," said Loduca. "We are taking concepts to the community to share with them and get feedback."
Loduca expressed confidence that the project and the necessary zoning change would attract support.
"These are three very popular programs that already exist in the Castro in separate locations and are so popular, that in fact, there are often lines out the door every morning for people waiting to get services from Magnet or Stonewall," said Loduca. "The message we have received from the community is clear that we not only want these services, we want more of them."
Due to the planned addition, the renovated building is now slated to be 14,870 square feet and 43 feet tall.
"Once we initiated the process of planning for all the various programming we need to fit into this space to meet community needs, it was clear we would need a third floor," said Loduca. "We are looking at more group counseling rooms for mental health and substance abuse services."
The price tag has also been elevated to an estimated cost of $8 million to $10 million. Initially, the foundation had pegged the cost at roughly $7.9 million.
This week the foundation announced it had hired Randy Hyde as director of the campaign for health and wellness. Hyde, an out gay man who started May 1, will oversee the fundraising drive to pay for construction of the health center as well as the ongoing costs to operate it.
SFAF declined to disclose Hyde's salary. He had been director of development at 826 Valencia, a local nonprofit aimed at fostering writing skills in students age 6 to 18.
He has experience spearheading major fundraising drives for several local institutions. As campaign director at SFMOMA, Hyde oversaw the capital campaign to raise $555 million for the modern arts museum's new building. He also oversaw the campaign that raised a $125 million endowment for the San Francisco Symphony.
That track record makes Hyde the "superb choice" to lead the fundraising campaign for the health center, stated SFAF CEO Neil Giuliano.
Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check http://www.ebar.com Monday mornings at noon for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column reported on doubts over the fate of a condo conversion measure in SF.
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Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 861-5019 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.