A Reno-based developer with a let's-call-it-interesting past when it comes to San Francisco projects is looking to build a huge, 646-unit residential building in the Outer Sunset, and the city says they have misinterpreted how the planning code and density bonus work.
Ahead of any formal plans being submitted to the city, and after years of back-and-forth during which the scale of this project has grown significantly, the CH Planning LLC apparently tipped off the SF Business Times about the coming battle with the city, and/or YIMBY Law wants to call attention to it.
The plan is for "a 646-unit, 560-foot tall mixed-use tower at 2700 Sloat Blvd.", otherwise known as the current site of the Sloat Garden Center. Though there are a couple of confusing bits here — there is something in the Business Times piece that suggests the proposal is for four separate towers on a single podium (a podium is the concrete base of the structure that often contains parking), and the city's code considers them all the same building, so is that actually four 140-foot-tall towers?
We don't have a rendering of this latest proposal, only the one above that was for a smaller, 400-unit version of the project. And the Chronicle blares the headline that this would be "a 55-story condo," which just seems kind of insane. So what appears to be going on here is some sort of negotiation tactic, beginning with the interview with the Business Times. And maybe what's actually going to get proposed is more like 10-15 stories?
Sonja Trauss, executive director of the advocacy group YIMBY and their legal arm YIMBY Law, points the finger at the city and some vagary in the code, saying that city code is "silent" on the massing issue for the building that Planning is saying is not allowed.
"What has happened now is actually the most problematic way to go about it,” Trauss tells the paper. "In the letter [responding to the developer, the zoning administrator] says, the code is silent on this, so I will assume it is prohibited. That is not how zoning works."
Developer John Hickey, who is listed as the "project consultant" for CH Planning, and his wife Raelynn Hickey, tell the Business Times they are submitting their plans for the 646-unit project soon — last week, they said it could be by Friday.
As the Chronicle reports, though, the plans have not come in, and Planning Director Rich Hillis confirmed that this project would be out of compliance. He says "high-density housing here makes complete sense, but it defies logic that a site with a 100-foot height limit and a 50% density bonus would yield a 560-foot building."
The city has reportedly encouraged CH Planning to submit plans for four separate towers, each on their own podium, and take the density bonus one building at a time, but they say this would make the project prohibitively expensive.
Supervisor Joel Engardio tells the Chronicle that he already knew about the proposed project, and that the developers canceled a meeting with him last month.
"That was a few weeks ago, and now I read about it in the newspaper. That is not a good start as far as community outreach," Engardio says.
The project at 2700 Sloat was originally proposed as 213 units on eight stories. That later changed to 12 stories and 283 units, and then that was upped to 400 units. This would have included around 30% affordable units.
Raelynn Hickey, who is listed as the official developer, tells the Chronicle, "I have been involved with affordable housing most of my life and it gives me great pleasure to have an opportunity to take part in developing more of this badly needed housing stock."
But as the Chronicle notes, John Hickey has some history in SF, beginning with three 500-foot towers he proposed in the Bayview that got shot down by the city in 2004. Then there's a 2006 conviction in federal court in SF for allegedly defrauding 700 investors, for which he was sentenced to eight years in prison and over $17 million in restitution. That stemmed from a development partnership Hickey had in the early 1990s pursuing projects in Napa and Sonoma counties, and elsewhere, as the Chronicle reported at the time. (Hickey appealed his conviction and sentencing, but both were affirmed by the Ninth Circuit in 2009.)
Stay tuned for how this unfolds, and as it stands, planning says it will continue to work with CH Planning to bring the project into compliance with city code.
YIMBY Law, meanwhile, may continue to make some noise about this.
Top image: Rendering by KA via CH Planning/SF Business Times