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UPDATE: Final Vote on Gang Tower Delayed Again

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Zoning drama plays out at City Hall as scheduled, but the verdict was put off one more week

UPDATE 4/13/17: If anybody is still on the edge of their seats about this, lean back, because as always, City Hall works at its own pace.

City legislators heard the pitch from developer Tishman Speyer and boosters about the proposal to build the distinctive, Studio Gang-designed corkscrewing high-rise at 160 Folsom Street ten stories higher on Tuesday.

But the final vote was put off until the meeting of April 19 so that the text of the proposal could be amended, an obligatory procedural point that pushes the finish line of this planning drama just a little further down the road.

The developer already has full entitlement on a 300-foot high-rise at a primo spot, with a design by world-class architects that will make it an instant landmark. Depending on your point of view, it’s either crazy that they’d spend months flogging their way back through the development process trying to get more, or crazy that anyone would bother trying to stop them.

But as we’re reminded at each successive hearing, 10 stories and a few dozen units is a question of tens of millions of dollars and dozens of people‘s lives and futures in the city.

Dozens of members of the public appeared at the meeting to argue in favor of the upzoning, pointing out how badly middle class people need the 40-plus below-market-rate units that would result. Several tenants of BMR units at Tishman Speyer’s Mission Street building were among them, making impassioned pleas for more homes like the ones they’re lucky enough to be leasing.

But there were also those who suggested that the developer is taking the city for a ride: The land at Transbay Block 1 was sold at a sweetheart price of $19 million, only half its assessed value, as part of a complicated bargain to combine parcels and secure more affordable housing.

Others argued that it’s simply unfair to grant something extra to any one project, and feared every nearby building would ask for the same. And some questioned just how affordable housing that can be priced at 120 percent of the city’s median income really is.

Supervisors Aaron Peskin and Malia Cohen put out some pointed questions about the land deal. Supervisor Jane Kim of district six, which includes the entire Transbay project, defended the bargaining process, with supervisors Scott Wiener and Norman Yee chiming in with supportive comments about the project, Yee calling it "an opportunity for height to advance affordability."

One more week until the drama concludes and the city knows whether the Folsom Bay Tower will be an upstanding addition to the skyline, or come up a few stories short.


[4/11/16] Anyone waiting breathlessly for news about the proposed upzoning of the Jeanne Gang-designed corkscrew tower at 160 Folsom is in luck. Today's update: Wait one more day.

After the relevant amendment stalled on a point of procedural politics last week, the Board of Supervisor’s Land Use Committee waved it through on Monday without much comment. The whole thing is now set to go before the full board tomorrow, which makes a big debate beforehand suddenly redundant.

Yes, over the course of two weeks the 30 to 40 story residential tower was first delayed and then in essence skipped a step entirely. Go figure.

The Planning Department previously put its own stamp of approval on the request to add 10 additional stories to what’s presently slated to be a 300-foot tower, the upper end of a 12-year-old zoning cap that project boosters say is out of date.

The unusually high volume of affordable on-site units in the Folsom Street proposal — 35 percent now, which will become 40 percent if the upzoning goes through — has generated a considerable amount of goodwill for developers Tishman Speyer, and the request has largely glided through the process until now. Few elected officials want to be the deciding vote that keeps dozens of BMR condos off of the market in a few years.

But some naysayers did follow up on their appearance before the same body last week, arguing among other things that the zoning is the zoning, like it or not, and warning of a slippery slope effect that will add 10 new stories to every neighboring tower, as other developers try to emulate Tishman Speyer’s success.

The proposed building sits in district six, represented by Supervisor Jane Kim, who has not yet commented on whether she supports the upzoning or not. The Land Use committee tried to contact Kim for a recommendation on the amendment last week, but never got a reply one way or the other.