Latest Castro Housing Projects Cause Concern

  • by Matthew S. Bajko
  • Saturday February 6, 2016
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A rendering of the apartment building at 2100 Market Street, the site of a former restaurant, shows a flatiron-inspired look
A rendering of the apartment building at 2100 Market Street, the site of a former restaurant, shows a flatiron-inspired look

Two mixed-use developments in the Castro's upper Market Street corridor will be taken up this month by the city's planning commission amid concerns about their designs and complaints they include too few units of affordable housing.

On Thursday (February 4), the Arquitectonica-designed 62-unit building at 2100 Market Street is up for a vote before the oversight body. The redevelopment of the corner restaurant space, last operated as Home, and attached parking lot is from local developer Brian Spiers, who owns nearby bar Lucky 13 and built the cube-like Linea development, designed by the same architects, a block north on Market.

The following week, at its February 11 meeting, the planning commission is slated to vote on the Prado Group's revamp of Sullivan's Funeral Home at 2254 Market Street and its adjacent parking lot. The developer has proposed incorporating the existing structure into a new building containing 45 apartments and a townhouse with two units constructed on the property's 15th Street side.

Both projects include ground floor retail spaces and plan to set aside the required 12 percent of below-market-rate units on site. They are the first new housing proposals for upper Market Street to go before the planning commission in nearly two years.

Another five more redevelopment proposals slated for Market Street between Duboce Avenue and Castro Street are in the pipeline, with several expected to also seek approval from city officials this year.

Over the last three years a number of new housing developments with retail spaces at street level have been built along the main thoroughfare in the city's gay district. All have been situated at prominent corner sites and feature modernist designs.

Several have been well received while Spiers' Linea has been one of the most derided for its geometric design and, according to some critics, unappealing retail spaces.

The latest batch of proposed developments is drawing unusually strong concern from the Duboce Triangle Neighborhood Association. It has voiced objections to the designs of not only the projects for the Home and Sullivan's sites but another in-fill project at 2201 Market Street (at Sanchez) where 14 units of housing is being proposed to replace an existing commercial building currently occupied by a real estate firm.

DTNA has labeled all three of the designs as "generic and uninteresting" and blames the planning department's design review process for rejecting the architects' bolder plans for each site.

In addition to pushing to see more cutting-edge architecture, DTNA has joined with a number of other neighborhood groups to demand that the new projects set aside 20 percent of their units as affordable. And it is pressing to see that any ground floor retail spaces be limited in size so the leases are not so astronomical in price that only chain stores can afford them.

Its concerns are so great about the coming projects that DTNA has asked the planning department to put a pause on approving any new housing along upper Market Street until its concerns can be addressed.

"This is an unusual step for DTNA, an organization that has welcomed neighborhood-serving, transit-friendly, dense development," DTNA noted in its February newsletter. It added that, "The Upper Market/Castro is without question taking its 'fair share' of growth and development, but DTNA is insistent that these projects be done right and respond to current issues for the community."

Planning Director John Rahaim met with the group's land use committee Monday night to address its concerns. In an interview with the Bay Area Reporter Rahaim said he generally does not support halting construction anywhere in the city.

Doing so, he said, will only exacerbate the growing demand for both market-rate and affordable housing.

"I believe if we don't do more market rate housing in the city, new residents will push out long time residents of the city," said Rahaim, a gay man who has led the city's planning department for eight years. "My personal belief is stopping market-rate housing is not going to solve this problem."

In addition to the planning department refusing to put a hold on the upper Market Street projects, gay Supervisor Scott Wiener, who represents the Castro, told the B.A.R. this week that he does not agree with DTNA that a pause is needed.

"I do not support a moratorium in housing on upper Market, period," said Wiener, who was a vocal critic of last fall's unsuccessful ballot measure to impose a building moratorium in the Mission. "These projects are all in the planning process and the developers have been engaging with the community. They are all headed to the planning commission, which will make a decision."

Planning Commission Vice President Dennis Richards, a gay man who formerly led DTNA, has spoken to the group about its concerns. He told the B.A.R. he believes there are ways to address the issues DTNA has raised other than through a moratorium.

"My question on that would have to be what would a pause accomplish?" asked Richards.

However, Richards said he does understand the neighborhood concerns about wanting to see more units be made available for low- and middle-income people in the new developments proposed for upper Market Street.

"They feel this is the last gasp chance to create more affordability," he said.

City Hall officials are in talks to boost the percentage of affordable housing developers would be required to set aside to as much as 25 percent. But Wiener said he believes the threshold should be based on the size of the development so that ones with 40 units or less would face a set-aside greater than 12 percent but less than 25 percent.

He is waiting to see the results of an economic feasibility study before committing to an exact number.

"I support increasing the inclusionary percentage but I want to make sure we are differentiating between projects based on size," said Wiener.

Planning Backs Home Site Proposal

The planning department has recommended that the planning commissioners approve Spiers' plans to redevelop the former Home site when they meet Thursday. Seven of the rental units would be set aside as affordable, and a new restaurant would be sought to operate out of a corner 2,600 square foot commercial space.

"We think it is a great space for a restaurant, nightlife spot," said Spiers, who already has been fielding calls from interested restaurateurs.

The building, which would range from four to seven stories on the sloping parcel, would have six studio units, 31 one-bedroom units, and 25 two-bedroom units. Residents would have access to a 4,960 square foot roof top deck.

In his report on the project, planner Jeff Horn noted it complies with the city's Upper Market Development Design Guidelines and "is desirable for, and compatible with the surrounding neighborhood."

Addressing the Castro Merchants, which voted to support his project in December, Spiers noted the property has been vacant since 2011 and that he is eager to revive the prominent corner where Market, Church, and 14th streets intersect.

The building would mirror a flatiron design with the corner featuring glassed living rooms with dark gray metal guardrails. Both sides of the building would feature pop-out bay windows.

The initial design for the project "was not well received for being too modern," said Spiers, "so we decided to go in a different direction."

The property owner approached him in 2013 about redeveloping the triangular lot after the city rejected Mexican fast-food chain Chipotle's request to open an outlet there.

"The owner knew me so he called me and we came to an agreement," said Spiers. "I signed a 99-year ground lease that is allowing me to do the apartment building there. There will be no condo units here."

There would also be no parking for cars. Instead, Spiers plans to provide 62 bicycle spaces indoors and another five outside on the Market Street sidewalk. Six new street trees would be planted along 14th Street, where the sidewalk would be widened from 9 to 12 feet where feasible.

"This is the first to take that route. We were highly encouraged by planning to do it," said Spiers, who was able to add two more residential units in place of a car garage.

Developer Will Save Sullivan's Building

At its project a block south from the Home site, the Prado Group has committed to setting aside its required five affordable units on-site. The development fronting Market Street will be a mix of 12 junior bedrooms, 10 one-bedrooms, 20 two-bedrooms, and three three-bedrooms.

The new construction would be set back behind the existing building, which is deemed a historical resource and will be maintained, "to allow the distinctive terra cotta roofline of the funeral home to be seen at an oblique view much the way it is today," according to the developer.

The two units in the new townhouse fronting 15th Street will be accessed by a raised stoop above the sidewalk and feature "a contemporary interpretation of the bay windows that are a cornerstone of San Francisco residential architecture," according to the developer.

The project also includes the retention of an existing three-unit rent-controlled apartment building at 15th Street. Prado plans to make exterior improvements to it, including new windows, trim, and siding.

Prado built the nearby 38 Dolores (at Market Street) apartment building that includes a Whole Foods grocery. It will not decide until halfway through construction of the Sullivan's site project whether those units will be apartment rentals or condos for sale.

Unlike with Spiers' project, Prado has proposed a below-grade parking garage with 24 spaces. There will also be 66 bicycle parking spots for residents, most accessed via the Market Street building's lobby.

The initial design by BAR Architects played off the red colors of the terra cotta tiles on the funeral home building. That was changed, however, in the current proposal.

"The new design has more muted colors so the new building will take a back seat to the existing building," explained Prado Group senior project manager Jon Yolles during the December meeting of the Castro Merchants, which voted to endorse the project.

There will be 3,000 square feet of retail space in the new building with 15-foot-high ceilings that can be divided into three smaller spaces, said Yolles. There will also be commercial spaces created in the existing building.

"We made the decision to incorporate the existing building because we think it has a lot of charm," he said. "Quite frankly, you can't replace these buildings."

When the project was first announced, LGBT historic preservations had feared the existing building would be torn down. They contended the funeral home was one of the few in the early days of the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s to accept the bodies of those who had died.

A post from January 2015 on the Preserving LGBT Historic Sites in California Facebook page pointed to a class=null>June 2006 AIDS timeline in the San Jose Mercury News class=null> that said, "Sullivan's was a notable exception: Owner Jim Sullivan 'lost a brother to AIDS, and his funeral home was one of the few in the city that would handle the funerals of AIDS victims.'"

The Citywide Historic Context Statement for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer History in San Francisco, adopted last fall, cited Sullivan's, along with the Neptune Society, as "reportedly a few of the first to offer services to those felled by AIDS" but did not include the Market Street building in a list of properties it suggested deserve some form of landmark status.

Prado hired Architectural Resources Group, headed by Charles Chase, a past president of the San Francisco Historic Preservation Commission, to do a historic resource evaluation of the site. It concluded that t class=tx>he Arthur J. Sullivan Funeral Home being among a few that accepted the bodies of AIDS victims at the beginning of the epidemic "appears to be a significant overstatement."

In an interview for the report conducted last April, Jim Sullivan, who started working for his father at Sullivan's in 1970, couldn't recall any of the city's funeral homes refusing to serve AIDS victims. He is quoted as saying he "did not think Sullivan's was one of the first funeral homes in San Francisco to accept AIDS victims."

Based on its own research of obituaries published at the time, the Architectural Resources Group concluded that Sullivan's "was one member of a broad array of funeral homes and religious institutions - both within the Castro district and across the city - that held services for AIDS victims in San Francisco in the 1980s and 1990s."

The group concluded in its evaluation that the Sullivan's building does not warrant listing on California's Register of Historical Resources. But it did agree with an earlier finding by another firm that the building does contribute to the Upper Market Street Commercial Historic District.

It is expected that planning staff will also recommend the planning commission approve Prado's plans for the site next Thursday. And with its past record of supporting the various in-fill projects along upper Market Street, the commission is not likely to vote down either Prado's or Spier's proposed developments.

The commissioners, however, could require both projects to increase the number of below-market-rate units they are offering, as increasing affordable housing throughout the city has become a chief concern.

The planning commission meetings begin at noon Thursdays in Room 400 at City Hall.