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FLAX Owner Endorses New Building on Old Store Site

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Howard Flax provides his support, Planning Commission grants conditional approval

The proposed mixed-use building at 1699 Market Street, the former longtime home of the now-departed FLAX art supply store, got a thumbs up from the Planning Commission yesterday. Among the project’s boosters: Howard Flax himself.

The proposed nine-story building would include 15 studios, 81 one-bedrooms, and 64 two-bedroom condo units. The ground floor would be commercial retail space, which planning commissioners deemed a particularly attractive asset for the burgeoning neighborhood.

The pennant-shaped parcel is tricky from a design point of view. SCB architects say that they’ve designed what are essentially two buildings, a "C-shaped" main building fronting Market Street and Stevenson, and a narrower tower on the south side of the lot fronting McCoppin, with a courtyard separating the two.

The larger building’s "C-shape" is on account of another courtyard that takes a bite out of its southwestern side.

Originally, designers considered a "subdued gray tile façade" to contrast with the brick buildings around it, but the final design uses copper tones to serve as a "modern interpretation of the brick."

Commissioners seemed to like the proposal, Commissioner Mike Antonini noting that Presidio Partners has been at it for three years and that the building will generate $3 million in fees. Still, the ghost of FLAX was clearly flitting about the hearing.

"FLAX will be a hard act to follow," said Commissioner Katherin Moore. "It will be very hard to create anything new with the same kind of magnetism."

But among those who came to the podium to endorse the new building was FLAX owner Howard Flax. "It may seem odd, since it was my business displaced by this, but I support it," Flax says. "I’d hate to see everything we’ve worked toward with our move to Oakland come to naught. We want to see this come through."

Some neighbors criticized the plan, calling for more affordable housing (presently the project is slated for 12 percent affordable housing, 19 units in all) and pointing out the potential for traffic snarls around the building’s parking garage, which as proposed would have opened onto both McCoppin and Stevenson.

The commission asked that the McCoppin garage entrance be nixed among a handful of other changes, then approved conditional use authorization unanimously.