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“Historic laundromat” owner sues city

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Marin landlord seeks $17 million for alleged obstruction of building ambitions

Designs for a would-be mixed use building at the cite of a present Mission laundromat.
Designs for what would be a mixed use building at 2918 Mission Street.
Rendering courtesy of BuzzBuzzHome

In June, Robert Tillman, the Marin-based landlord who has spent years trying to turn a washed up laundromat at 2918 Mission Street into new housing only to be hung out to dry at every turn, promised to sue the city for what he alleges is chronic obstruction of his building ambitions.

And on Monday Tillman and his attorney announced that the die was cast, as he’s now filed a $17 million suit in San Francisco Superior Court.

Tillman’s allegations read in part:

A single Board [of Supervisors] member allied with special interest groups in the Mission District seeking to acquire the property at a below-market price, or otherwise to block it entirely, single-handedly killed the project after Petitioner refused to sell the property to the activists at the discounted price demanded by those groups.

The Board member’s stated reason for the denial was that shadows cast on a neighboring school by the project could theoretically affect a public recreational space at some unspecified future time if that school ever became accessible to the general public.

The City’s planning staff, however, repeatedly found in reports that any such shadows do not constitute a significant environmental impact under the City’s existing policies.

Among other complaints, Tillman alleges “abuse of discretion,” lack of a fair hearing, and, interestingly, violation of his Fifth Amendment rights, arguing that “local governments may not condition the approval of a land use permit on the owner’s relinquishment of a portion of his property.”

Tillman has been trying to build a 75-unit property at 2918 Mission for years. Earlier in 2018, city legislators ordered a study to see whether the 90-year-old building currently on the site was a historic resource, earning the building its sarcastic “historic laundromat” nickname.

The eventual study concluded that the building has no particular historic value. But lawmakers followed up with a vote for yet more study of the site, this time around the shadow concerns.

In the past, the affordable housing developer Mission Economic Development Agency offered Tillman $9 million for the building. But Tillman says he won’t sell for less than double that.

Now his suit claims that City Hall’s red tape routine amounts to an effort to force him to sell or face the possibility of not building at all.

Neither the city attorney’s office nor Supervisor Hillary Ronen—who is named in the suit—have yet issued a statement in response.

You can read the full text of Tillman’s complaint (which for liability reasons we should not remains unsubstantiated in court for the time being) here.