The Rationale for No Parking: A Q&A With the 1050 Valencia St. Developer

1050_Valencia_current.jpgThe site of the contentious new development and current home of Spork Restaurant. Photos: Shizuo Holding Trust.
Last week we reported on the proposed 5-story development at 1050 Valencia Street, on the corner of Hill street and the current location of Spork Restaurant, which stimulated a lot of reader comments.

While the project would add 16 units, the project sponsor doesn't plan on building any parking, a sticking point that has nearby neighbors upset. Those neighbors appealed the Planning Department staff's initial approval of the project, arguing that the new building doesn't fit the context of the neighborhood and that it doesn't fit at the edge of the Liberty Hill Historic District.

Elizabeth Zitrin, a neighbor who filed the appeal, said the project was out of context with the neighborhood.

"What might be appropriate for the heart of the district, completely surrounded by a commercial zone, is not appropriate for this fragile edge of the Liberty Hill Historic district, where its going to be so much bigger, where it's going to have multiple negative impacts on this historic resource and residential neighborhood," she said.

Peter Heinicke, another neighbor who testified against the project at the Planning Commission last week, said he was concerned with the character of the building, the height and bulk and the lack of parking in a neighborhood he argued wasn't transit rich.

"The effect is I think someone who lives there is likely going to have a car. They may not drive it all the time, but they're going to need to have it and they're going to need to park it somewhere, even if they take BART into work," said Heinicke.

We reached out to Mark Rutherford, the developer of 1050 Valencia, and asked him about the dust up with the neighbors and why he would bring a project forward without parking, especially when most developments seek exceptions to add the upper limit of parking whenever possible. 

Hill_street_view.jpgThe view down Hill Street toward Valencia. As a comparison, a 4-story building on Valencia can be seen on the left of the photo.
Matthew Roth: Why did you choose not to build parking on the site for the residences?

Mark Rutherford: We would rather build housing and restaurant space than parking, and coincidentally that’s what the Mission Plan calls for: maximum unit density, no parking and ground floor retail.

Roth: Do you expect the residents will be attracted to the site because they won't be car owners?

Rutherford: We see affordability, location and green construction as the major draws. However, there is definitely an emerging urban aesthetic where people take pride in living a car-free lifestyle. The Valencia Street transit corridor epitomizes that way of life.

Roth: Are there cost savings associated with not building a garage that you can pass on to the units?

Rutherford: There is a cost savings, but only if you are allowed to build to the site’s full potential. If the unit density and mix are watered down by political pressure, the savings evaporate.

Roth: What do you think of the appeal from the Liberty Hill Neighbors and do you think they have standing?

Rutherford: The community has every right to have input into what goes on in their neighborhood and you wouldn’t want to live any place where it didn’t. However, abusing the appeal process puts legitimate projects in jeopardy and deprives the City of jobs and affordable housing, not to mention tax revenue. Still, we’re confident that it will work out for everyone.

Roth: Do you think the issue is the context of the building or the parking?

Rutherford: I have no idea what the real issue is. Our project is perfect for that corner.

Roth: Some advocates and affordable housing proponents have said projects like this should be supported so that other developers are encouraged to provide housing without parking in other areas of town. Do you see this kind of development as being a trend?

Rutherford: It’s definitely the future. No one in their right mind believes a car-centric urban model is sustainable, which is why so many garages are converted to in-laws in this City.

Roth: Is it hard to find financing for a project without parking like this?

Rutherford: It’s hard to find financing for any project right now.