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Commissioners Say Twisty Cylinder's Report Was Too Subjective

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In two Thursdays, the proposed 400-foot twisty cylinder at 555 Washington will go to the Planning Commission for the final certification of its environmental impact report. In anticipation of the big day, the Planning Department's released all of the letters that have been collected in its inbox. Judging by some of the names that express serious reservations about something or another, things aren't looking too hot for Aegon Group, which also owns the Transamerica Pyramid (and basically the rest of that entire block). Two members of the Planning Commission think the draft EIR, as published last March, gets way too subjective. They both complain about a statement saying the building's distinctive design "is unlikely to be perceived as a negative visual change by most observers" — hardly the kind of "analysis," they say, that's par for the course in assessing environmental impacts.

And if the director of "The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill" has any weight to her name, she's using it to sum up the problems other critics are having with the building. Says Judy Irving: "Please do not erode current law with spot zoning, demolish an historic building, and cast shadows on public parks, all for the sake of luxury condos that the city doesn’t need!"

Howard Wong, former senior architect at the city's Bureau of Architecture says, "A tall, signature?styled design would detract from the Transamerica Pyramid. ... The Pyramid needs 'room to breathe' as a SF architectural icon. Spot zoning's an issue here, too. The site at 555 Washington's zoned for 200 feet, while the project's just about double that. Allowing the extra height at this one project would, in the words of a couple urban designers from SOM, reveal that "San Francisco has no plan for its future growth nor for what it wishes to change or protect."

Which brings us to 545 Sansome St., which would be demolished in the plan. The old headquarters of California Ink Co. is judged to be worth preserving by some, and indeed, the Historical Preservation Commission says Aegon's "preservation alternative" is better than the twisty cylinder. In that particular scenario, the developers wouldn't build the condo cylinder, and instead would keep 545 Sansome, while tacking on a nine-story residential addition to the building.

All that said, there are a couple groups that are pulling for the cylindrical condo building: RENEWSF, a group that follows projects in the city's northeast area, and the Barbary Coast Neighborhood Association — they're both pretty psyched about the improved Redwood Park and its gifting to the city. More word on Jan. 21, when 555 Wash gets its hearing.
· FiDi's Shadow Drama: Free Park to Make Up for the Trouble [Curbed SF]
· Height Choppers Eye the Twisty Cylinder [Curbed SF]
· Twisty Cylinder to Play Sidekick to Transamerica's Pyramid [Curbed SF]