As you may recall, there was another Design Review Board meeting last week to look over the revised plans for the very longstanding, very controversial plan to build infill housing on the secret interior lot bordered by Hampshire, Peralta, York and Cesar Chavez.
In case you missed it, Neighbor Margo shared these terrific summary notes from the Design Review meeting:
About a dozen neighbors attended the East Slope Design Review Board meeting Wednesday evening to see the most recent architectural plans for the six-unit infill development behind our home. Local contractor Patrick Quinlan wants to build three-bedroom homes and a cliff-side elevated driveway on two undeveloped interior lots. Access would be from his lot at 1513 York Street.
The project has been in and out of the development pipeline for 15 years or more.
The latest iteration from San Francisco-based architect Stephen Antonaros drastically cuts the number of parking places. Mr. Antonaros said the city Planning Department directed the builder to reduce the number of dedicated parking places in the four three-bedroom homes from three spots to one per unit. That goes against what the neighbors had advocated for many years, but the directive is apparently in keeping with the city’s transit-first policy.
The plan envisions four three-bedroom homes on the R-2 interior lots, and two one-bedroom townhouses above a driveway/garage-door structure on the York Street access lot. The total of 14 bedrooms is unchanged from the previous plan, which we saw 18 months ago in May 2014.
But one of the concerns that neighbors voiced for many years was that the parking spaces in the development should reflect real life. The last set of plans met that concern; most neighbors thought the 18 spots for the six units would avert a flood of drivers seeking a place to park in neighboring streets, where parking is already extremely challenging, particularly at night. So, for those of us who were hoping that this project would not worsen parking in the area, the new plan, with just six parking places, is a setback.
The other major change is that the four interior buildings had been oriented in the previous layout in a sort of slanted configuration, facing northeast, following the contour of the hill, leaving some space between the buildings, and some space at each side of the lot. The city directed the architect to reduce the mass of the development, so he took that as a directive to push the houses closer together and over to one side, as well as to configure them parallel to the neighboring streets. The development now would be more like a cluster of four buildings hard up against the York Street side of the property.
The owner of the adjacent property on York Street pointed out that he had previously noted that the building on the access lot would abut two existing windows on the north side of his house. He had asked the architect to modify his plans, perhaps with a light-well. Mr. Antanaros responded that when you install a window on your property line, you take a risk that someone will construct a building there. In any case, that modification was not made.
Two neighbors asked that the builder consider leaving the space open, perhaps as an organic garden. Mr. Quinlan said the finances of the situation make that option unrealistic.
The East Slope Design Review Board volunteers, led by Wendy Cowles, went point by point through their previous concerns, expressed in a letter to the Planning Department following the last neighborhood meeting in May 2014. Mr. Antonaros tried to show how his new plans answered them. A few spirited exchanges ensued.
The Board’s concerns included traffic density within the project itself, which, of course, would be lessened by reducing the number of parking places. Another traffic concern was the “pinch point,” the area near the gate to the project, where cars can safely wait while turning into and out of York Street, which is quite steep and narrow on this block.
A retaining wall and elevated driveway directly above the back yards of the adjoining properties on Cesar Chavez were a concern both aesthetically and for safety. The builder plans to excavate, with earth-moving equipment, to reduce the scale of parts of the wall, but the proposed driveway remains right on the property line, and was not moved back.
One part of the project, the two one-bedroom townhouses on York Street, was over the neighborhood’s 30-foot height limit, and it was lowered.
The architect and builder expressed frustration at the pace that city planners are moving this project. In the 18 months since the last meeting, Mr. Antonaros said, he has had but three email exchanges with the planner, Mr. Doug Vu, and the directives he’s gotten have not added clarity for him, he said.
The review board will write another letter to the Planning Department and expects to see plans again at a later date.
Despite the contractor’s and architect’s frustrations, and several neighbors’ skepticism about the whole project, Ms. Cowles succeeded in keeping the atmosphere relatively civil and efficient. The meeting wrapped in a bit over two hours.
Many thanks to Neighbor Margo for sharing her most excellent notes.