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Plan for 1,100 homes at Balboa Reservoir finally moves forward

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A small step for a proposal more than three decades in the making

Watercolor drawings of new houses and parks at Balboa Reservoir.
Avalon Bay designs for the Balboa Reservoir site.
Renderings courtesy of Avalon Bay

After nearly six years of planning, outreach, and argument, a proposed large-scale housing development next to City College of San Francisco (CCSF) took a small step toward reality Thursday, as the San Francisco Planning Commission voted in favor of initiating the long-planned Balboa Reservoir project.

The vote was chiefly a procedural one that begins the process of rezoning the 17.6-acre property, which is publicly owned and currently serves as a massive parking lot. But it’s the most concrete step that the city has taken toward transforming all that asphalt into over 1,000 homes.

This is the third time that the city has tried to develop housing on the reservoir lot, with the first bid dating to the 1980s and the administration of Mayor Art Agnos.

Located immediately across the street from the college, a number of students rely on the reservoir lot when commuting to class, which has long been an obstacle in its development.

In 2017, the city picked a development group headed by Virginia-based investment firm Avalon Bay. Habitat for Humanity and affordable housing developers Bridge Housing and Mission Housing are also part of the plan to build up the site.

The design that Avalon Bay submitted includes 1,100 new homes, mostly townhomes, half of which are slated as affordable housing, and 150 of them are reserved for CCSF faculty and staff.

The development would also include 750 public parking spots to replace much (but not all) of the parking loss, and there’s four acres of parks and open space in the designs as well.

Kirsten Dissinger of Bridge Housing talked up the park plans on Thursday, testifying that the development will create public space to serve as “a new meeting area for neighbors from Sunnyside, Westwood Park, and Ocean Avenue,” opening the area up to residents.

Groups like Save CCSF gripe about the net loss of parking for the college. Save CCSF characterizes the development as a bid by private companies to acquire public assets, declaring in 2017 that “not one inch of public land should go to private interests.”

CCSF union President Jenny Worley repeated this sentiment to the San Francisco Examiner, saying commissioners not to proceed with the development because public land “should be used for public good.”

But although the commission members expressed some reservations about potential problems like traffic and funding in the midst of a looming recession, they voted to move the development along anyway, with Commissioner Kathrin Moor praising it for family-focused elements like high bedroom counts and on-site childcare, saying that the city has long neglected housing for families.

Avalon Bay hopes to break ground in 2022.