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Hearing set for Castro housing project on site of former Sparky's Diner

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An artist's rendering of the housing development planned for the former Sparky's Diner site at 240-250 Church Street. Illustration: Courtesy SF Planning
An artist's rendering of the housing development planned for the former Sparky's Diner site at 240-250 Church Street. Illustration: Courtesy SF Planning  

At its first meeting in December the San Francisco Planning Commission will take up the redevelopment project proposed for the Church Street site of the former Sparky's Diner. It is the first major housing proposal to move forward in the upper Market Street corridor of the city's Castro LGBTQ district in five years.

Property owner Ty Bash first revealed plans to demolish the brick building that for years had housed the 24-hour, LGBTQ-friendly eatery two years ago, as the Bay Area Reporter first reported. Sparky's had operated at 242 Church Street and closed in February 2016, while Thorough Bread and Pastry at 248 Church Street has remained open.

Initially set to be a 22-unit housing development, Bash is now seeking permits for a 24-unit building at 240-250 Church Street that would house the bakery business in a brand new 1,992 square foot retail space.

"We have a housing shortage in our city, and we should encourage construction of affordable-by-design homes," Bash had told the B.A.R. in June 2019.

Designed by Schaub Li Architects Inc., the housing will be a mix of 18 two-bedroom units and six one-bedroom units. Three of the units, a one-bedroom and two units with two bedrooms, will be sold as affordable and priced at 80% of the area median income. All of the residential units will have access to a shared roof deck, and although there is no vehicular parking provided, the project will have 30 bicycle parking spaces for the residential and retail components, according to the plans.

Due to the decision to now include the required affordable units on-site, the project is entitled to a 24.5% density bonus, or approximately 4,997 gross square feet, for residential uses. But in order to include the four additional units, the project is seeking a height waiver for the seven-story building, which is planned to be 74 feet, 11 inches tall.

After a November hearing was pushed back, it will now take place before the planning commission Thursday, December 2. City planning staffers are recommending the oversight body approve it, and the staff report indicated there has been no opposition registered against the proposal.

"The project would provide 24 dwelling units helping alleviate San Francisco's severe housing crisis," wrote planner Bridget Hicks in her report to the planning commission, noting the inclusion of the below-market-rate units on site and retention of the existing commercial tenant. "The proposed dwelling units are located on a transit heavy corridor and in a neighborhood that will benefit from the increase in foot traffic and consumers who will inhabit these units."

Other projects
The upper Market Street corridor has seen a number of mixed-used developments with housing above ground floor retail be built over the last decade. The newest will be the 44-unit condo project at 2238 Market Street by the Prado Group Inc.

It broke ground in July 2019 and is repurposing a former mortuary and its parking lot into housing and sidewalk-fronting storefronts, with five of the condo units to be sold as affordable. Initially to be completed in early 2021, the homes are now slated to begin selling toward the end of the year.

Construction on Prado's project began right around the time that the apartment building at the corner of Market, Church, and 14th streets began leasing out its 60 units, eight of which were set aside as affordable. Local contractor Brian Spiers' decision to initially use San Francisco-based startup Sonder to oversee leasing of the furnished market-rate apartments was met with controversy. (Last summer, during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sonder sued Spiers to exit its agreement early.)

Several other redevelopment proposals on that same block of Market Street have languished in recent years. The former Open Bible Church at 2135 Market Street, which abuts in its rear yard Bash's development on Church Street, has long been eyed for housing, as has the former Lucky 13 straight dive bar across the street at 2140 Market Street.

Plans submitted to the planning department prior to the pandemic called for both sites to make use of the State Density Bonus Law in order to build at least 30 units on the church site and 90 units on the bar site. But both housing plans had faced neighborhood opposition due to the height of the buildings and limited below-market-rate units.

Developer Kent Mirkhani has retained Macy Architecture to design the buildings for both sites. The project at 2135 Market Street would set aside three of its 30 units as affordable. Revised plans for the building were submitted to the planning department in January, and Mirkhani and his architects have been meeting with community groups in recent months to seek their support.

In May, plans for the Lucky 13 site were submitted to the city that called for a new brick building with 70 units, 10 of which would be below-market-rate, as the pro-housing group SF Yimby noted at the time.

It is unclear when either of Mirkhani's projects will go before the planning commission. As for Bash's Church Street project, it is the first item on the planning commission's regular calendar for its December 2 meeting, which begins at 1 p.m.

For more information about the project and how to watch the hearing, visit https://sfplanning.org/sites/default/files/agendas/2021-11/20211202_cal.pdf

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