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City Hall Holds Up Gang Tower

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Political red tape ensnares development for a few more days

Developers Tishman Speyer are waiting to find out whether their new building at 160 Folsom Street — the rippling tower designed by Jeanne Gang for Transbay Block 1 — will receive its long-sought upzoning. But they’re going to have to wait a bit longer, as the deal was tripped up on Monday by a developer’s most reliable nemesis: red tape.

The Board of Supervisor’s Land Use Committee was scheduled to vote whether or not to grant an extra 100 feet to the building, presently approved for 30 stories. Thirty stories is the limit set on the parcel by the 2004 Transbay plan, but since then things have changed: The city is in the middle of a housing crisis, and many nearby parcels are approved for much taller buildings.

With that in mind, Tishman Speyer made a pitch: Grant the twisted tower another ten stories and in exchange they’ll bump up their voluntary below-market-rate unit contribution to 40 percent of the building, 156 affordable units altogether. (In this case, affordable units cost up to $384,000.)

The Planning Commission and Office of Community Infrastructure gave thumbs up to the plan. Now all the building needs is a yes from the Board of Supervisors, starting with yesterday’s committee meeting.

Most of the usual suspects were on hand: Development-friendly non-profit SFHAC called the building "striking" and said that "delaying it delays middle class homes."

Rob Devilin, a sales agent for affordable units at 1400 Mission Street, read a letter from a BMR tenant declaring that "density is great."

Peter Hartman of the neighborhood citizen advisory committee said of the 300-foot zoning: "What once was bold now feels modest."

There was, of course, criticism too. Jerry Dodson of Save Rincon Park (the upzoning would cast a shadow over the nearby park, normally illegal in San Francisco but this time permitted on a technicality) said that a taller building would "devastate" the waterfront and called the $19 million price for the lot was a sweetheart deal.

But all of that was just for the record, because the scheduled vote was scuttled right out of the gate.

District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin was annoyed that the 160 Folsom amendment had been fast tracked ahead of the divisive Affordable Housing Bonus Program, despite both lingering for equal amounts of time after planning approval.

"I find it troubling. I have theories about why that is," said Peskin, suggesting that someone was playing politics with the calendar. Unless everything was brought forward on one slate, the supervisor said he wouldn’t vote on it.

After some jostling with the other committee members, Peskin won out and the vote was put off until next week, like a big fat "To Be Continued" at the end of a TV show.

After so many years in the pipe, what’s one more week of waiting?