Last week, Curbed SF referenced a letter written by the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council to the Mayor’s Office of Housing expressing the group’s opinions about what the city should build on the site of the Stanyan Street McDonald’s currently slated for affordable housing development.
HANC said that it wants as much affordable housing development at the site as possible but preferred not to build over five stories, which we called contradictory. In response, HANC Land Use Chair Rupert Clayton spoke with us about HANC’s ambitions for the still undefined housing project.
Curbed SF: So does that letter still represent HANC’s position, or has anything changed since acting Mayor London Breed announced plans to purchase the site?
Rupert Clayton: Well, the Mayor’s Office of Housing specifically requested public comment in the very early stages of a deal, and that’s what our letter was in response to. There were 33 other public comments from other parties, we just happened to post ours to our site so people could see the issues we were raising, so that’s the context there.
It’s a strange process: Because the city wants to get federal funding they have to start letting us know and saying what they might build, so everyone piles in early talking about everything we do not want. We try to be open minded.
We love the idea that everyone wants to buy this for housing; the city needs it, the neighborhood needs it, and we want a community process to figure out the best thing on this site, because it’ll be there for a long time.
Let’s talk about the five stories versus seven stories distinction. Isn’t it contradictory to say you want as much housing as possible but then try to cap the height?
We’re all working with very little info, so we’re trying not to do any kind of pre-judging of what the proposal might be. The city has floated a five story and a seven story option and we do want a lot of people in affordable housing, and the bigger the building the more people get in.
But this is going to be in the neighborhood for a long time and there are no other seven stories buildings on Stanyan. This is right at the entrance to Golden Gate Park, a spot that does a lot to define the neighborhood. If it’s done badly it could be very unpleasant.
[Update: St Mary’s Medical Center at 450 Stanyan is actually eight stories, according to staff.]
A five story building could be bad for the neighborhood too if it’s done badly.
It could be. But the building next door is three stories with a cupola, so even five stories is going to be pretty prominent. Seven stories is very prominent. People have suggested things like setbacks on upper floors at seven stories, and that should be considered. But right now since there’s zero design, we need to look at what the impact of these options might be.
When you say things like “This building will be around a long time” and “There are no other seven-story buildings on Stanyan,” those sound like reasons we should develop a taller building, not reasons not to.
And for people who feel that way we want them to be part of the discussion and we want to see what’s going to come out of the design process and we’re not expressing a faith position in either option right now. But we do know that a seven-story building has the potential for a much larger impact on the neighborhood, obviously.
So you’re saying seven stories is a higher risk, higher reward idea?
That’s a fair way to put it.
But how do we decide what’s good for the neighborhood? If someone suggested a 15-story building on Stanyan I might say that’s not practical. But ten? Nine? Seven? How do we make sure that the line we’re drawing isn’t just arbitrary?
Well, we are not taking a position until we have a design. It’s not about drawing lines that it must be this tall or that tall; planning is about compromise. There’s always pros and cons of any design, that’s how planning works. What are the impacts, can they be mitigated, are they worth accepting? And not everyone is going to get everything they want.
We do know there are people who say the Mayor’s Office of Housing has been too timid and that we should build as much and as dense as possible and who think all planning restrictions are just a smokescreen to give some old white people a way to keep their neighborhoods from changing.
And how do we prove to those people that they’re wrong? Not to sound accusatory, but if a group like HANC wanted to do that the tools are there and you could make it look like just the usual process.
To that I’d say HANC didn’t write the state or national environmental laws, and I think if we look back at some of the environmental horrors [in the past] we can see why those laws came into place. They were a lot of input from the legislature and they’ve been amended many time. They may be abused sometimes, but you could pick any part of the law and find some cases of abuse.
But again, what do you say when someone accuses you of that abuse?
Well that’s just a strawman argument, so there’s not much to say. But most people aren’t like that. Most people in the neighborhood are willing to meet in the middle. So right now we just have to focus on community housing.