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As More Mission Rentals Seek Approval, a Small but Vocal Opposition Raises Its Voice

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Renderings via <a href="http://www.leavittarchitecture.com/">Leavitt Architecture</a>
Renderings via Leavitt Architecture

Last night at the Mission Language & Vocational School, Mission neighbors gathered to get a look at the Toboni Group's plans for a 27-unit market-rate rental building at 600 South Van Ness, near 17th Street, where an auto-repair shop now stands. At next week's Planning hearing, Toboni will seek approval to put up a five-story building with 15 one-bedroom units, 12 two-bedrooms, a communal terrace out back, and roughly 3,000 square feet of ground-floor retail. Though outreach for the project officially began in 2013, the developer held this supplementary meeting at the request of the community, to give neighbors a chance to check out the design in advance of next week's Planning hearing. About 12 people (one-sixth of them reporters) gathered in an upstairs room to watch Toboni Group president Joe Toboni, architect Michael Leavitt, and lawyer Steven Vettel fidget in front of easels propping up their renderings and plans.

With both rents and resentments running high these days in the Mission, every community meeting—even the sparsely attended ones—turns into a de-facto referendum on development in the Mission. Developers strive to present their plans as the inevitable result of a conspiration between zoning regs and Planning decrees, while neighbors who are feeling disenfranchised challenge the idea that anything should be inevitable at all. Things got awkwardly personal at one point, when Toboni attempted to establish his working-class bona fides with an anecdote about his mother, and then again when an audience member argued that Toboni's family wouldn't have been able to afford to rent in the proposed building, either. Other things that happened: Technology was scapegoated (by the developer, actually, not the attendees), and someone called the building a "monster," in attempt to link it to the controversial development proposed for 1979 Mission.

Photo of 600 South Van Ness existing site via Leavitt Architecture
All 27 units would be market-rate rentals, and the Toboni Group would fulfill the inclusionary housing requirement by paying $2 million into the affordable housing fund, enough to subsidize eight below-market-rate rentals. The fee did not play well with the crowd, though Toboni pointed out that the affordable units would be built in the Mission, at one of three city-owned sites in need of funding. One audience member advocated for turning the whole project affordable by partnering with a nonprofit. At that point, lawyer Steven Vettel stepped in to explain that the city only looks at such partnerships in larger buildings, say, 50 units or more. "This building is too small for that to work," he said.

Asked whether he had considered going denser than 27 units, Toboni explained that the scheme rises to the full height allowed by zoning, and that regulations specify a 17-foot height for the ground-floor retail spaces—meaning that going denser would have meant building smaller units. "It's not the units, exactly; it's height, backyard—it's as many units as you can get with the stairways and everything," Toboni explained. As designed, the one-bedrooms range from 605 to 710 square feet, and the two-bedrooms range from 910 to 1175 square feet. All have balconies, and the seven fifth-floor units have roof decks. Toboni, who typically builds houses, envisions couples in the one-bedrooms and families with kids in the two-bedrooms. "I see it as a different type of building," he said. "That's why the outdoor space—it's a little more comfortable.

600 South Van Ness will go before the Planning Commission at the April 30 hearing.

· 'Monster in the Mission' Recap: The Night Everyone Yelled at PowerPoint Slides [Curbed SF]