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SF’s new fourth-tallest building tantalizingly closer to reality

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Chinatown opposition to Howard Street high-rise evaporates

An illustration of high-rise towers in San Francisco, with a suspension bridge in the foreground.
The proposed future SF skyline, including the Parcel F building (at left) and the still-unfinished Oceanwide Center.
Rendering courtesy of Pelli Clarke Pelli architects

The Pelli-Clarke-Pelli building that someday may be the fourth tallest in San Francisco—and is the last vacant property around the Transbay Transit Center set for development—inched toward the finish line Thursday as the SF Planning Commission approved the project.

Potential hurdles going into the long-awaited hearing this week included worries that the nearly 750-foot tall tower at 542-550 Howard Street will cast shadows over parks in Chinatown.

The staff report prepared for the hearing cited no fewer than eight groups who objected to the building’s shadow profile, most notably the Committee for Better Parks and Recreation In Chinatown (CBP&RC, part of the Chinatown Community Development Center).

In San Francisco, Prop K, which passed in 1984, bars new high-rise developments that will have any “adverse impact” on parks “because of the shading or shadowing that it will cause, unless it is determined that the impact would be insignificant.”

SF Recreation and Parks did determine that the Howard Street development’s effect on the park would not be particularly notable, but neighbors could still have challenged it in order to hold up construction. But in a surprise move, a CBP&RC representative said that they’re no longer opposed to the building.

After the planning vote, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors gets final say over whether construction will finally start.

The high-rise would come with 165 homes, a 189-room hotel, 276,000 square feet of office space, and 9,000 square feet of retail. It will also offer 178 parking spaces, bike parking, open space, and even a pedestrian bridge to the park atop the nearby transit center.

Over the years the housing element of the tower has shrunk considerably—in 2016 the unit count was 200—although this isn’t unusual for big projects. The size of the hotel also shrank, down from 210 rooms.

Real estate firm Hines teamed up with Goldman Sachs affiliate Broad Street and Urban Pacific Development teamed up to buy the parcel in 2016, paying $160 million for the land.

If constructed, the new tower will be shorter only than Salesforce Tower, the Transamerica Pyramid, and the under-construction Oceanwide Center.