August 18, 2014 Housing Action Coalition
Last week, District 9 Supervisor Campos requested a continuance for a proposed project at 490 South Van Ness Avenue, six days before its Planning Commission approval hearing. While the action taken on one project may seem insignificant, it speaks to a core issue behind our housing affordability crisis: the length of time it takes to get good projects approved. The project’s entitlement process actually began back in 2010.
490 South Van Ness is currently occupied by a trash-strewn, fenced-off, vacant lot. The project sponsors began their community outreach for the project four years ago, initially proposing 81 units with on-site inclusionary and entirely compliant with the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan. SFHAC endorsed the project at that time because it added housing to a transit-oriented site near local job centers and activated under-utilized land (read our letter here). But the development plans went dead when the economy tanked in the Great Recession. After several years of conducting soil remediation on the site and engaging the community on their proposal, the project sponsors returned with slightly revised plans, dropping the total number of units to 72. In addition, their outreach process included several meetings with neighbors and the school principal of Marshall Elementary School, located 1.5 blocks away, to assure there would be no shadow cast on the school yard.
Despite these efforts, Supervisor Campos requested the continuance, which the Planning Commission agreed to, delaying the approval hearing to September 4th. The reason given was that the project sponsor needed to meet with the Marshall School’s PTA. While the SFHAC supports thorough community engagement, we believe well-designed, well-located projects that adhere to the City’s land use rules should be approved in a timely way.
Planning Commissioner Antonini remarked while discussing the continuance at last week’s hearing, “It’s a project that’s in compliance with the Eastern Neighborhood Plan. I’d imagine parents of school children would prefer a beautiful building as opposed to a filthy lot.”
The City must make it easier for small-scale urban infill projects to move through the entitlement process, or else we will never address our housing affordability crisis.