After extreme pressure from the neighborhood — and in turn, pressure from the supervisor — the developers agreed to pay for and build the on-site affordable housing for seniors and reduce the amount of retail. The project would likely cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
Despite the concessions, dozens of windows in Laurel Heights are adorned with bright yellow posters that say “Save Laurel Hill!”
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While some neighbors say they are pleased with the proposed on-site affordable housing, they are still upset about how long it will take to build the housing — about seven years — and that the project could bring traffic, noisy construction and new retailers to compete with the stores already struggling to stay afloat in Laurel Village.
“We want housing and we want it now,” Richard Frisbie, 77, a vice president of the Laurel Heights Neighborhoods Improvement Association, which has pushed back against the project. “And we don’t want retail because it will kill Laurel Village, which is already under extreme duress.”
“We’re not NIMBYs,” he added. “We’re RIMBYs — ‘responsibly in my backyard.’”
Still, the development team, San Francisco-based Prado Group and SKS Partners, hopes to break ground by early 2021. The project could be the largest housing development in the neighborhood in years and also dramatically increase the amount of affordable housing units on the west side of the city. But first, it must get approved by the Board of Supervisors — a process that could take months and be stymied by neighborhood pushback and possible legal challenges.
The Laurel Heights Improvement Association already nominated the building at 3333 California St. for historic status in May 2018. That move could eventually stall the project if the neighborhood decides to use the historic status to support a legal challenge.
The lot — which is currently the UCSF Laurel Heights Campus — is an enclosed office park closed off from the neighborhood by private green space and a brick fence. It is wedged between the residential Laurel Street, and busy California Street and Presidio and Masonic avenues. The transit-rich campus sits on the No. 1 California Muni route, one of the busiest and most frequent lines in the city. Prado Group hopes to integrate the development into the surrounding neighborhood with a public park and connecting paths.
The original plan was to revamp the UCSF office buildings and construct 558 units of housing, 54,000 square feet of retail, nearly 50,000 square feet of office space and a child care center. The current proposal cuts the amount of retail to about 34,000 square feet and adds on-site affordable housing for seniors. The amount of proposed affordable housing is more than the developers are required to build by law. Prado will work closely with Mercy Housing on developing the affordable units.
Stefani’s proposed zoning change Tuesday will kick off a long, bureaucratic process that includes plenty of opportunity for public comment: First, the proposal will be heard in front of the Planning Commission. Then it will move to the Land Use and Transportation Committee, and eventually head to the full board for a vote.
“We will continue to work closely with Supervisor Stefani, community members and neighborhood organizations to refine and improve the project as it moves forward in the approval process,” Dan Safier, president and CEO of Prado Group, said in a statement.
Longtime residents, like Adam McDonough, who has owned a home across from the proposed site for about 11 years, said he’s upset that the developers asked for a construction window that could last seven years. The city needs housing now, he said.
“My son will be going to college by then,” he said. “Do it faster and scale it down.”
He is also wary of the size of the project and how new retailers could compete with the existing stores.
Stefani said she is still open to refining the project to meet neighborhood needs.
The project is not the only housing slated for the neighborhood. TMG Partners and Grosvenor Americas are proposing 273 homes at 3700 California St. The San Francisco Unified School District is also eyeing a site in Laurel Heights, at 20 Cook St., for a potential large teacher housing project.
While some in the neighborhood don’t want to see change, others see the project at the UCSF site as an opportunity to revitalize Laurel Village, a shopping center that has struggled over the past few years. The area recently lost two neighborhood staples: Noah’s Bagels and Beautifull, a prepared food store. There are also questions over whether the Gap Kids store will close.
The area’s problems have been exacerbated by the March closure of California Pacific Medical Center, which moved to a new, seismically up-to-date location on Van Ness Avenue. Another punch to the area will come when the employees at the UCSF campus move to a new spot in Mission Bay in 2020.
Marci Glazer, CEO of the Jewish Community Center, which sits across the street, said the neighborhood has become significantly quieter during the day as fewer employees work in the area.
“We are eager to have a vibrant neighborhood, and one that is thriving,” she said. “The decrease in activity over there leaves a hole in the neighborhood fabric.”
Ronald Giampaoli, the owner of Cal-Mart, a neighborhood grocery store, said while the store hasn’t experienced a dramatic decrease in traffic yet — he worries that the construction will lead to a loss of customers. He said he’s not opposed to the project, but is worried about how the new retailers would compete with his store and others in Laurel Village.
“If there’s no foot traffic, the businesses are just going to die,” he said. “I hope it’s a peaceful transition, that’s all.”