SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) — Score another victory for developers in the latest battle over housing in San Francisco’s Sunset District. A controversial project recently profiled on Project Home just got the green light.
Jim Philliou and his neighbors have been fighting to stop a housing project that would double the occupancy of an old apartment building on their block of Irving street, make it higher and take away parking.
“This project clearly didn’t meet the standards,” said Philliou. “Nobody’s super happy.”
Despite complaints from more than a hundred neighbors, planning commissioners approved adding a fourth floor to the project last week with some minor modifications.
It’s a battle that’s being played out all over San Francisco’s west side. The Sunset and Richmond districts have become the new frontier for housing developers. The people who live here, mostly in single-family homes, are fighting to keep developers out but it’s been an uphill battle.
On Noriega Street, neighbors of a new, four-story apartment building under construction spoke out against the project when it was first proposed back in 2014, to no avail.
“Building more housing for techies I don’t think is a priority because they can have the pick of the litter,” one resident told KPIX.
Nearby, on Judah Street, residents appealed a proposal to build a five story apartment building on the site of an old automotive repair shop calling the design “toxic” and “pre-apocalyptic.” They lost.
On Lawton Street a developer wants to turn an abandoned gas station into a 41-unit building.
“In the last few years the Sunset District has already seen an unprecedented number of new multi-unit, residential developments, either constructed or in the pipeline,” said supervisor Gordon Mar.
The district supervisor supports the housing boom. He voted in January to add the western neighborhoods to a list of Priority Development Areas (PDA). (The PDA resolution was adopted on Jan. 14.)
”Those developments will have to include below-market-rate units, our inclusionary housing policies so I think that’s positive and important,” Mar said.
San Francisco’s Home-SF program allows developers to bypass zoning regulations and build higher and denser as long as they provide a percentage of so-called, below-market-rate units.
The rules apply only to new construction like the projects on Noriega, Judah and Lawton. All three will include BMRs. Renovations of existing buildings are exempt, including the Irving Street project.
“I do believe if the project sponsor was able to make more assurances that these units would be affordable to folks in the community then there would have been less conflict around the project. I did make an effort to try to facilitate those discussions and a compromise but that didn’t really come about,” supervisor Mar said.
But developer Brian Veit told KPIX: “Frankly, I don’t think (Mar) understands the issue.”
Veit said his project is affordable by design. His plans on Irving street include tiny units that, he says, could rent for as little as $1800 a month. And, because the building was built before 1979, the property is subject to rent control.
“We will rent at quote-unquote market the minute they sign the lease but, at that point, they are then rent controlled,” Veit said.
But some residents say all the fighting over affordability and density is just wasting time.
“We’ve passed a lot of incentive programs like Home-SF and the state density bonus to try and get more housing built on the west side. But there’s still this awful process that takes years and years to get anything approved and where we allow any neighbor to say, ‘sorry, this doesn’t belong here,’” said Theo Gordon with the Bay Area chapter of Yes In My Back Yard.
Gordon said tiny studios would fit the bill for a lot of people, even at market rate.
“We need more family housing but we also need more studios, we need something for everyone,” Gordon said.
Supervisor Mar told KPIX he would like to see legislation that extends inclusionary, affordable housing laws to existing buildings like the one on Irving Street. This month he’s kicking off a community planning process that he’s calling “Sunset Forward” to engage neighbors in the conversation. He’ll be posting about it soon on his website.