SOMA developers work with leather district as hearing nears

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday August 19, 2020
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The 1500 block of Folsom Street, as seen from the parking lot of Action Rentals, left, to the Oasis nightclub. Photo: Rick Gerharter
The 1500 block of Folsom Street, as seen from the parking lot of Action Rentals, left, to the Oasis nightclub. Photo: Rick Gerharter

The San Francisco Planning Commission will hold a hearing next month to determine whether to require sound proofing for a housing project at 1560 Folsom Street — adjacent to the LGBTQ-themed bar and nightclub Oasis.

Update: After this article was published, the planning department's calendar indicated the hearing was continued to September 24; instead of August 27 as originally mentioned.

Noise emanating from the long-established LGBTQ bars and nightclubs into the early hours of the morning in the city's South of Market neighborhood, in particular, have been issues with some of their neighbors in the past.

In an effort to stop such issues before they start at this project, the entertainment commission made noise abatement recommendations to the planning commission on June 30.

These include windows that will have more ability to reduce sound penetration than standard single pane windows, according to a copy of the recommendations reviewed by the Bay Area Reporter.

In July, the Leather and LGBTQ Cultural District began circulating a petition asking the developers of the project, the San Francisco-based real estate development company AGI Avant, to help mitigate the effects of gentrification in the area.

"The 1560 Folsom Street location is an epicenter of our community, and we welcome development that will become a good neighbor, by supporting the cultural district, welcoming the Folsom Street Fair and other traditional and cultural events, and mitigating the effects of gentrification that the addition of this project's nearly 700 new residents, in 232 mostly market-rate units, will bring to the heart of the Cultural District," the petition states.

Robert Goldfarb, president of the cultural district, said that the developers can help make sure that the project — located at the site of an equipment rental agency and several auto shops — can help in maintaining neighborhood character.

"Some things the developers can do are basic and simple — visuals to give a sense of the culture of the area, sidewalk plaques, custom bike racks — things that are small but make the neighborhood feel like a place," Goldfarb said in a recent phone interview with the B.A.R.

"There are also more material things they can do as it relates to space. One of the challenges is that the spaces where groups meet — such as The Stud — are being lost," he added, referring to the closure of the LGBTQ bar's physical space at Ninth and Harrison streets in late May. "When a building comes in of significant size, they are required to have ground floor retail. If these spaces were made available to the community at reasonable rents we can fight the displacing of those places."

Goldfarb said in a subsequent interview that the district has proposed having tenants at the 1560 Folsom site sign an acknowledgement that they are in a place with pre-existing cultural activities.

"One of the things we, as a cultural district, are doing is asking that new projects like this include in the purchase agreement something advising residents that they are in a cultural district and that some activities — like the Folsom Street Fair — are pre-existing," Goldfarb said. "We hope that helps as well."

Eric Tao, the managing executive of AGI Avant, told the B.A.R. by phone that the developer has been working with the cultural district and that it is close to making a formal agreement regarding the acknowledgement.

"We've been working with the cultural district for over a year now and are close to a memorandum of collaboration," Tao said. "I don't want to get into the weeds but, yes, we want people to acknowledge that they are in a cultural district."

Tao also said that AGI likes some of the cultural visuals Goldfarb suggested, such as sidewalk plaques and other things.

"We'd be highly supportive of that," Tao said. "It's part of our collaboration that we're going to try to build something that's going to fit the neighborhood."

Carissa Hatchel, the programming coordinator for Oasis, stated in an email that the nightclub welcomes its new neighbors.

"In terms of the new building coming up next to us, we are hopeful that Oasis will be an amenity to the tenants, and that people moving into the entertainment corridor in SOMA will be excited to have an eclectic bar/nightclub at their immediate disposal," Hatchel wrote.

Tao and another project sponsor, Daniel Belknap, spoke before the entertainment commission in late June.

Tao said at that time that due to the COVID-19 pandemic's effects on the real estate market, the earliest they anticipate getting started on the project is the end of 2021. The earliest residents are slated to move in is 2024.

All of the commissioners present at that time voted in favor of the recommendations that have been sent to the planning commission.

Previous flashpoints

Negotiating space in SOMA — who gets it and what they can do with it — has been a flashpoint between the leather and LGBTQ communities and others in the past.

As the B.A.R. previously reported, in 2007 and 2008, Hole in the Wall was delayed from relocating for months because people living near the proposed new site of the bar, at 1369 Folsom Street where it is currently located, were concerned about the potential for noise and wafting cigarette smoke.

At the time, one SOMA resident said she opposed the move because "this neighborhood has been moving away from its sexual outlaw DMZ rep," apparently using the initials for demilitarized zone.

Goldfarb said that the Lone Star Saloon, Calle 11, and 1015 Folsom have all received complaints from people living nearby regarding noise. None of those establishments responded to the B.A.R.'s requests for comment by press time.

As the B.A.R. reported in 2018 many queer SOMA residents spoke out against a Starbucks popping up near Wicked Grounds, a queer independently-owned coffee shop. Following a community meeting, Starbucks did not move there.

Goldfarb said that hopefully the leather district will be able to use ground floor space for a new community center.

"One of our long term goals is to create a community center and hopefully landlords can assist in that effort to help the community in the leather district," Goldfarb said.

Updated: 8/21/20: This article was updated to indicate the planning department's hearing on the project was continued to September 24.

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