Skip to content

Posts from the "Development" Category

16 Comments

Appeals Board Reverses Vote to Downsize Parking-Free 1050 Valencia

The San Francsco Board of Appeals voted yesterday to reverse its decision to downsize the long-embattled condo project at 1050 Valencia Street in the Mission. The project includes no car parking and one bike parking space for each unit.

Image: Architect Stephen Antonaros via Mission Local

The vote restores the full 12 units approved by the Planning Department and Board of Supervisors. The Appeals Board had voted in December to chop off one of the building’s five floors, removing three units, two of which would be subsidized affordable housing. The downsizing was intended to appease vociferous neighbors opposed to the perceived increase in noise, shadows, and competition for curbside parking spaces, since new residents wouldn’t have off-street parking. (Studies show that residents who move into a home without a dedicated parking space are less likely to own and drive cars.)

Housing development advocates successfully challenged the Board of Appeals vote on the grounds that it violated the California Housing Accountability Act. The Housing Action Coalition explains in a press release:

Under the California “Housing Accountability Act,” for a local agency to condition approval of a housing project on reducing its density to less than that allowed by law, the agency must make findings that the project would have a “specific adverse impact on public health and safety” unless the density is reduced.

HAC Executive Director Tim Colen argued to the Board of Appeals that, in fact, restricting the amount of desperately-needed housing in transit-oriented projects like 1050 Valencia is what’s harmful to public health and the economy. “Among the consequences are discrimination against low-income and minority households, lack of housing to support employment growth, imbalance in jobs and housing, reduced mobility, urban sprawl, excessive commuting, and air quality deterioration,” he said.

Read more…

9 Comments

Hey, Developers: NEMA Offers Free Bikes for Residents to Borrow

I spotted a couple the other day riding bright red Public bikes in Golden Gate Park, labeled with the letters “NEMA.”

Photo: Rent NEMA

When I stopped to talk, they confirmed my suspicion — they were residents of “New Market,” the partially-completed, 754-unit residential apartment complex at Market and 10th Streets. NEMA has six Public bikes for residents to borrow at no charge.

NEMA brands itself as an “ultra-contemporary, highly-amenitized, tech-savvy rental community designed for San Francisco’s culture-driven lifestyle.” I don’t know if the bike fleet is a first in the city, but it’s certainly a great example of how developers can encourage residents to try biking in the city. (A Bay Area Bike Share station also sits across the street.)

“It’s great to see strong commitment to biking from one of Market Street’s largest residences,” said Paolo Cosulich-Schwartz, the SF Bicycle Coalition’s business and community program manager. ”We applaud NEMA for going above and beyond in providing easy and convenient ways for their residents to bike in the city.”

Of course, it would’ve been nice if the development didn’t include 550 car parking spaces for its 754 units — a 0.7-to-1 ratio for a building that sits on top of a Muni Metro and BART station, not to mention the city’s busiest bicycling street. But the bikes are a nice touch.

93 Comments

The Bay Area Needs More Walkable Housing, Not Google Bus Bashing

The anger of the protestors who blockaded a Google bus in the Mission on Monday was very real and understandable. San Francisco residents, living in a highly sought-after city with a limited housing supply, are coping with a crisis of skyrocketing rents and evictions. Meanwhile, Muni riders increasingly find their stops blocked by private shuttles that appear to be whisking away the very Peninsula tech workers blamed for driving up rents.

Plenty has been written about the strife caused by SF’s housing crisis in the last few years. But as we wrote in February, pointing fingers at tech shuttles doesn’t help solve the problem — if anything, it’s a distraction from effective solutions.

The real culprits are the decades-long failures of SF and other Bay Area cities to develop efficient transit systems and the kind of walkable neighborhoods that are in ever higher demand, yet in scarce supply in the region. And deeper than that is the cultural aversion to change and the political establishment that caters to it, avoiding tough but necessary decisions.

Don’t get me wrong — the fact that private shuttles are illegally using Muni stops without paying anything for it is unjust and unsustainable, as Monday’s protestors rightly called out. But those specific problems can be addressed by devoting more curb space to transit — both public and private — the vast majority of which is currently devoted to free, subsidized personal car storage. The SFMTA’s plans to convert car parking to shuttle stops and establish a private shuttle fee system are a step in the right direction.

But what’s really hampering Muni performance is all the private car traffic that bogs down buses and the unnecessary frequency of stops. Imagine if protestors devoted this much energy and media savvy to demanding speedy implementation of the Transit Effectiveness Project by City Hall.

Meanwhile, the fact is that the Bay Area can’t have the dynamic tech-based economy sought by Mayor Ed Lee and an affordable housing supply for middle-class and low-income people without building substantial amounts of walkable development.

One factor we’ve pointed out on Streetsblog is that housing development in SF and other cities is hamstrung by minimum parking requirements, meaning housing for people is mandated to come with a certain amount of housing for cars. This adds to the cost of building, owning, and renting that housing, and limits the amount of space for residences or businesses. And as research has shown repeatedly, when housing is bundled with a parking space, residents are more likely to own a car and drive, making the transit system less effective.

Unfortunately, the positions staked out by Supervisors David Campos and Malia Cohen on recent housing development projects coming out of the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan work against the goal of affordability. Campos and Cohen have fought projects on the basis that they don’t have enough parking, causing developers to add spaces or subtract apartments, flying in the face of smart zoning policies developed over ten years. Meanwhile, parking-free housing is a growing trend in other American cities.

Read more…

134 Comments

Supes Narrowly Reject EIR Appeal Against Car-Free Condos at 1050 Valencia

The proposed parking-free, 12-unit condo and retail development at 1050 Valencia Street narrowly cleared a hurdle Tuesday after a 6-5 vote by the Board of Supervisors, which rejected an appeal that contended the project should be required to have a full environmental impact report.

A rendering of the 1050 Valencia project. Image: Stephen Antonaros via Curbed

The project, approved by the Planning Commission more than a year ago, has faced continued opposition for several years, organized by the Liberty Hill Neighborhood Association and the neighboring Marsh Theater. LHNA contends that new residents will own cars despite the lack of dedicated parking — even though a growing body of research shows otherwise – and take up street parking spots. Meanwhile, the Marsh’s protests focus on potential noise and shadows.

The latest appeal protests the Planning Department’s determination that the project does not require a full EIR under the California Environmental Quality Act because it complies with the zoning of the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan, for which an area-wide EIR was already done. Five supervisors voted to uphold the appeal — David Campos, John Avalos, Malia Cohen, Eric Mar, and Jane Kim. It next goes to the Board of Appeals.

Stephen Williams and other LHNA reps argued that the project’s location on Valencia at Hill Street, between 21st and 22nd Streets, was not a “transit-rich” area where residents would be able to live without cars, though studies show that residents who move into units without dedicated parking are less likely to own cars, and about half of residential parking garages in the Mission aren’t used for car storage.

“What does ‘transit-rich’ mean? No one knows,” Williams said in response to Supervisor Scott Wiener, who pointed out that the location is within one block of Mission Street, which has some of the most frequent Muni service in the city, and less than half a mile from BART’s 16th and 24th Street stations. Valencia is also one of the most heavily-traveled streets for bicycle commuting, and the building will have indoor parking for 28 bikes.

“I don’t think anybody should consider that transit-rich,” Williams said.

Read more…

63 Comments

Potrero Ave. NIMBYs Lead Supes to Grapple With the Minimum Parking Myth

For NIMBYs fighting a residential building project in the northeast corner of the Mission on the basis of negative environmental impacts, you might think minimizing the number of new car parking spaces is a good thing. After all, the more parking that goes into a project, the more residents tend to own and drive cars.

480 Potrero. Image: Planning Department via Curbed SF

But at an October 9 hearing on an appeal filed by neighbors against the environmental impact report for a proposed 75-unit residential building at 480 Potrero Avenue (at Mariposa Street), the appellants apparently had Supervisors Malia Cohen and David Campos convinced that if developers failed to provide “enough” parking, new residents will buy cars anyway and just circle around for a spot.

According to Juan Jayo of the Mariposa-Utah Neighborhood Association, opponents don’t buy the arguments to the contrary. “The Planning Commission’s response to this simply seems to be … eventually, people would get tired of looking for parking and move to Muni and bicycles and walk, so there would be no impact,” Jayo said. That’s basically correct, though new car-free residents who knowingly move in to an apartment without a dedicated parking spot wouldn’t be circling for parking in the first place.

Cohen and Campos, whose districts are near the site, grilled Planning Department staff on its determination that not building parking would not cause a significant environmental impact under the guidelines of the California Environmental Quality Act. Barely mentioned at the hearing, however, was the growing body of research showing that a guaranteed space to store a car is an incentive for residents to own one, and that any number of parking spots deemed necessary to meet some inevitable amount of parking demand is arbitrary. Meanwhile, parking spaces make housing more expensive and more difficult to build.

In other words, more parking facilitates more car use — not the other way around.

Read more…

No Comments

Supreme Court Weakens Local Governments’ Ability to Shape Development

It certainly won’t be the most talked about Supreme Court decision handed down this week, but “Koontz v. St Johns River Water Management District” [PDF] will have a long-term impact on the ability of local governments to shape new development.

A Supreme Court decision this week will make it harder for local governments to shape development. Image: Wikipedia

Tuesday, in a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that a Florida water management district violated private property rights when it asked a local developer to help pay for the environmental mitigation of building on wetlands in return for a construction permit. In her dissenting opinion, Justice Elena Kagan said the ruling has the potential to “work a revolution in land-use law.”

The developer, Coy Koontz, wanted to fill more than three acres of Florida wetlands to build a shopping center. The water management district indicated it would grant Mr. Koontz a permit if he reduced the size of his development and agreed to spend some money on wetlands-restoration programs. Mr. Koontz refused, and successfully argued at the trial and appellate levels that the water district’s actions violated his private property rights. The Florida Supreme Court disagreed, but now the highest court in the land has ruled in favor of Koontz.

Vermont Law School Professor John Echeverria wrote this week in the New York Times that the ruling could have a chilling effect on land use planning:

Cities and towns across America routinely attach fees and other payment obligations to permits, for example, to support wetlands mitigation banks, to finance roads, to pay for new schools or to build affordable housing. The ruling creates a perverse incentive for municipal governments to reject applications from developers rather than attempt to negotiate project designs that might advance both public and private goals.

Koontz received legal support from groups like the Cato Institute and the Institute for Justice, a nonprofit legal group that seeks to roll back government’s ability to influence land use. Both groups are funded by the Koch Family Foundation, the giving arm of infamous fossil fuel billionaires and far-right wing benefactors Charles and David Koch.

Alex Dodds, a spokesperson for Smart Growth America, said the decision is a setback for public involvement in the planning process.

“The biggest potential casualty are the opinions of residents: It’ll be much, much tougher now to incorporate community feedback into the formal approval process,” she said.

But she said communities can avoid problems by being prepared.

“The silver lining, hopefully, is that towns and cities will take this as an opportunity to clarify their zoning laws and better define what types of development they do want to see,” Dodds said.
5 Comments

Central Corridor Plan Envisions Transitways and Safer Streets for SoMa

Fourth Street. Photo: San Francisco in 15 Weeks

The Central Subway is coming, like it or not, and that means Fourth Street will get Muni Metro service starting in 2019. With that in mind, the SF Planning Department recently released the draft Central Corridor Plan, which sets the stage for upzoned transit-oriented development near new stations and street improvements to accommodate a growing population in a rapidly changing section of SoMa.

“The idea is to support development here because it’s a transit-rich area,” said Amnon Ben-Pazi of the Planning Department’s City Design Group. “Between BART, Caltrain, and the new light-rail, you have as much city and regional transit as you can get.”

The Central Corridor Plan, which encompasses one section of the broader Eastern Neighborhoods Plan, is aimed at creating a more people-friendly SoMa — a district which was primarily industrial until recent years. Streets that have served as car traffic funnels since the mid-20th century would be overhauled with improvements like protected bike lanes, new crosswalks, wider sidewalks, transit-only lanes, and two-way traffic conversions.

The Central Subway route along Fourth Street. Image: SFMTA

SoMa’s streets “were designed in a really specific way to accommodate large volumes of very fast traffic and trucks,” said Ben-Pazi. “While that may have been appropriate when this was an industrial area, it’s certainly not appropriate now with what we know about pedestrian safety and how the design of streets really affects the behavior of drivers.”

“If we’re going to go in the direction of having more people live and work here,” he added, “relying on the streets for their everyday circulation, we really need to address what these streets are designed as.”

Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich said the plan seems to be mostly on the right track, though it should include greater restrictions on new car parking that are more in line with the plan for the adjacent Transbay District adopted last year. “With as much development as is planned, and with a desire to reclaim SoMa’s mean, traffic-sewer streets for people and sustainable transportation, the plan has to be truly transit-oriented,” he said.

The plan calls for reducing traffic lanes and on-street car parking to make room for improvements to transit, biking, and walking. Ben-Pazi said the environmental review process for all of those projects would be completed as part of the plan, which is currently set to be adopted in late 2014.

Read more…

21 Comments

Livable City: Ticket Fee a Smart Way to Fund Transit to Warriors Arena

A rendering of the proposed Warriors basketball arena on the Embarcadero. Image: Golden State Warriors

Transporting folks to and from a new Warriors arena, condo, and hotel development planned for Piers 30-32 along the Embarcadero will require smart planning and the money to fund improvements for transit, walking, and biking to avoid clogging the waterfront with cars.

But Muni typically gets shorted when it beefs up transit service to bring fans to major sports and music events around the city, says Supervisor Scott Wiener, who yesterday proposed adding a $1 to $3 transit surcharge to tickets for such events. Wiener asked the City Controller’s Office to study the impacts of such a fee, and he says preliminary estimates indicate it could bring in anywhere from $3 million to $22 million per year for Muni, depending on the size of the fee and which venues pay it.

“Muni doesn’t have enough light rail vehicles, its vehicles frequently break down, and service has degraded,” Wiener said in a statement. “With a growing population and a possible new sports/concert arena at Piers 30-32, now is the time to ensure that Muni can meet not only today’s transit needs, but also the transit needs of the future.”

“Currently, the Muni underground is overwhelmed whenever there’s a Giants game. With the addition of the new arena, the strain on Muni service will be even more severe.”

Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable City and president of the BART Board of Directors, said the proposal “would certainly help Muni run the extra service,” for which the agency often pays transit operators overtime.

Radulovich pointed out that the surcharge wouldn’t necessarily come out of fans’ pockets, since venue managers would likely lower their ticket prices to match the going rate. “If they could charge two bucks extra on a ticket already, they’d be doing it,” he said. “They price them to fill the seats.”

An even better proposal, Radulovich noted, would be for event tickets to include a free Muni ride to encourage attendees to take transit instead of drive.

Read more…

17 Comments

Planning Commission OKs Car-Free Housing at Fulton and Gough

This post supported by

A rendering of the new project approved for Gough and Fulton Streets. Image: David Baker + Partners Architects

A massive Hayes Valley parking lot, formerly occupied by the Central Freeway, will be developed into a car-free apartment building and Boys and Girls Club after the project was approved unanimously by the Planning Commission last week.

The six-story apartment building at Fulton and Gough will include 69 rental units, eight of them available at subsidized below-market rates, all without car parking. The adjacent Boys and Girls Club will include parking — six tandem spaces which drivers will access via Ash Street, an alleyway, where the project developer will add a raised crosswalk along Gough. Pedestrian improvements like sidewalk seating and bulb-outs at Fulton and Gough will also be added as part of the agreement, and the site will include 70 indoor bike parking spaces.

Occupying a corner just two blocks from City Hall, the project “continues the reparation of the neighborhood damage caused by the collapse and removal of the Central Freeway,” notes project architects David Baker + Partners on the firm’s website.

Jason Henderson of the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association called the project “a key precedent” for the integrity of the Market-Octavia Area Plan, which sets limits on new parking to make room for people, not cars.

The project also marks what could be an upward trend of car-free housing being built in the city. In September, the Planning Commission approved a project with 12 car-free condos at 1050 Valencia Street.

Read more…

14 Comments

Planning Commission Approves Ped-Friendly Plan for Market and Dolores

As part of a newly-approved agreement, developers will add a sidewalk extension at Market and Dolores to make room for a mini plaza. Image: Prado Group

A plan to add a mini plaza and pedestrian safety improvements at Market and Dolores streets was approved by the SF Planning Commission on Thursday. The project will include new pedestrian refuges and sidewalks as wide as 14 feet, as well as special pavement treatments to highlight crosswalks on the block of Dolores between Market and 14th Streets. The crosswalk on Dolores at Clinton Park, a side street, will also be raised.

Image via Curbed SF

The plan received unanimous approval from commissioners, who were not swayed by some neighbors who opposed the conversion of two traffic lanes to pedestrian space on a short, lightly-trafficked section of Dolores. The improvements were part of a city agreement with the developers of an 85-unit apartment building and Whole Foods Market under construction at the corner. The arrangement calls for the developer to install the street upgrades in lieu of $510,000 in impact fees.

“The current design allows cars to whip around the corner quickly onto Dolores, endangering people who are crossing,” Walk SF Executive Director Elizabeth Stampe wrote in a letter to the Planning Commission in support of the project. “Dolores itself is also a high-speed street, making conditions more dangerous for all users, since any collisions are made much more serious at higher vehicle speeds.”

D8 Supervisor Scott Wiener praised the plan because it “appropriately balances pedestrian safety with traffic flow in the area. It’s a unique opportunity that we’re not gonna have again to do this upgrade.”

“If you’ve ever walked that intersection or driven by it, it is an incredibly wide, long pedestrian crossing — one of the longest in the area,” he said.

Read more…