A Trader Joe's that's been in the planning stages pretty much forever for the new building at 555 Fulton just received its final approval from the SF Planning Commission.

Hayes Valley sorely needs a grocery store, and they have for a very long time. This particular space at 555 Fulton was talked about as a potential Trader Joe's location half a decade ago, only to have that plan quashed by the city's formula-retail rules. Then came Portland-based New Seasons Market, which announced plans to move in and got its approvals in 2017, only to back out of its expansion plans a short while later.

Trader Joe's made it past its first hurdle, getting the conditional use exception to the neighborhood's formula-retail ban, back in November 2019. In April 2021, the company submitted its plans for the 17,000-square-foot store, and now as the Examiner reports, the Planning Commission unanimously approved the plans on Thursday.

A grocery component was a condition of the approval for the 555 Fulton condo development, which later became a subject of the FBI's investigation into Mohammed Nuru and San Francisco City Hall's culture of corruption. The building's owner, billionaire Chinese hotel magnate Zhang Li, was a client of Walter Wong, the now disgraced city contractor who worked as a permit expediter — ushering projects through the process, for a fee, thanks to his relationships with various city department heads. And Zhang figured into the indictment against former Department of Public Works chief Mohammed Nuru because he allegedly gifted Nuru and his girlfriend with an all-expense-paid trip to China in 2018.

According to the FBI's complaint against Nuru, it was a fairly clear case of pay-to-play, with Nuru later thanking Zhang in a message and saying, "I will do my very best to see that your project gets completed."

At Thursday's meeting, Andrew Junius, of the firm Reuben, Junius & Rose presented the Trader Joe's case to the commission, saying, "I don’t think Trader Joe’s needs much of an introduction. This space has been vacant. It’s been waiting for a grocery store. … We’re here with a grocery store. Let’s move this one forward."

The commission approved the store, and asked for an update on traffic mitigation efforts for the area in one year.

Trader Joe's is expected to open at 555 Fulton by late 2022, possibly, following all of its remaining approvals and a 14-week buildout. Or it might be early 2023.