SF Business Times: Biggest housing proposal on S.F.’s northwest side now calls for 744 homes
San Francisco Business Times – September 3, 2019
A proposal for the largest new housing development on San Francisco’s northwest side is nearing approval.
The plan for 3333 California St. calls for 744 homes — a mix of apartments, townhomes, single-family houses and 186 units for low-income seniors — as well as 35,000 square feet of retail, a child care center and 5 acres of public open space. A quarter of the total homes will be subsidized for low-income residents.
The 10-acre site is currently a 455,000-square-foot office campus occupied by the University of California, San Francisco, surrounded by mostly homes in Laurel Heights.
Developers Prado Group and SKS Partners first submitted their proposal four and a half years ago aiming for 558 homes and an office component that was since axed to make room for the senior housing, which involves a collaboration with nonprofit developer Mercy Housing.
“We’re excited that is actually going to create a lot of housing opportunities for people who want to live in this part of the city,” said Dan Safier, Prado Group’s president and CEO.
City staff recommends approving the proposal when it goes before the Planning Commission on Thursday. If approved, the project would go before the Board of Supervisors this fall for the official green light. The developers aim to break ground in early 2021 and complete the first phases of homes two years later. Overall, the project will cost more than $600 million to complete.
The campus was originally built in the late 1950s to serve as the headquarters of insurance company Fireman’s Fund, which moved out in 1983. The developers signed a 99-year ground lease with UCSF for the property in 2014.
A team of architects including Jensen Architects, BAR Architects, Solomon Cordwell Buenz and Meyer + Silberberg Land Architects has been working on the design, which includes refurbishing an existing office building and adding 13 new structures.
The increased housing count resulted from feedback from city staff, District 2 Supervisor Catherine Stefani and local residents. The developers have held 170 public meetings ranging from a few residents to several dozen people to collect ideas and feedback regarding the project’s design, public spaces and uses.
“Our approach is to be really open and transparent,” Safier said. “This project is on the west side of the city, where very little has been built in the last 50 years. … This is quite a bit of change for people who currently live in the neighborhood.”
Other changes include paring down the original plan for 110,000 square feet of office and retail to just 35,000 square feet of retail. The developers also tweaked the layout so that new homes on the edges of the campus will be low-rise to integrate better into the surrounding neighborhoods. They also plan to open up new streets and more pedestrian access within the site.
“We are going to take this walled-off island and integrate it back into the city,” Safier said. “We’re transforming the site from a suburban office campus into a walkable, livable neighborhood. You currently have to walk around the site right now, but we will connect it to the neighborhood.”
Like many other large housing developments in San Francisco, 3333 California St. has stirred significant opposition from neighbors. A campaign called Save Laurel Hill wants to preserve most of the existing buildings and open space on the site. On its website, the group states that the site is “one of the last open green spaces in the neighborhood, with breathtaking, unobstructed views of downtown San Francisco.”
Last year, the Laurel Heights Improvement Association, the group behind Save Laurel Hill, pushed for the main office building to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The building qualified, but the developers don’t plan to list it. They do plan, however, to retain most of the building to reuse it for housing.
The association came up with its own plan for the project that they say will preserve the existing buildings and landscaping while creating the same number of homes. They also want the buildout of the project to take no more than three years, which is feasible according to their alternative.
The group “strongly supports” housing at the site, said Kathy Devincenzi, president of the Laurel Heights Improvement Association, but does not support retail or tearing up the existing landscaping.
“The developers’ proposed open space is mostly concrete paving with planter boxes along the sides,” she said. “The developer proposes to remove all of the natural green space.”
Meanwhile, about a half mile away from 3333 California, TMG Partners and Grosvenor Americas plan 273 homes at 3700 California St., the site of the California Pacific Medical Center hospital that will close next year. Combined, the two California Street projects would inject more than 1,000 new homes in the area straddling Laurel Heights and Presidio Heights.
“There’s this incredible opportunity to knit the neighborhood fabric back together,” Matt Field, president of TMG Partners, told the Business Times in May. “It’s exciting to build a project where the plan grew out of the community consensus.”