Saturday: Community Meeting About “Great Wall on Shotwell”


Rendering of 1296 Shotwell, as seen from Precita Avenue

There’s a community meeting scheduled for this Saturday, April 30 to discuss the proposal to build a 9-story tower at 1296 Shotwell Street (near Cesar Chavez). The meeting will take place from 10 am to noon in Room 100 of Leonard Flynn School (2125 Chavez) adjacent to Precita Park.

As Bernalwood has previously reported, 1296 Shotwell may become an 85′ building that will provide 96 units of subsidized-affordable housing for senior citizens. Sounds great in theory, but there’s a big problem: Under existing zoning regulations, 1296 Shotwell is 20 feet too tall.

As the urbanist website SocketSite explains:

As noted in the City’s preliminary review of the project plans, which were drafted by Herman Coliver Locus Architecture, [1296 Shotwell] is currently only zoned for development up to 65 feet in height.

As such, the 1296 Shotwell Street parcel will either have to be legislatively upzoned or the City’s proposed Affordable Housing Bonus Program (AHBP) will need to be passed in order for the development to proceed. Once approved and permitted, it will take another two years to build.

So the current design for 1296 Shotwell is illegal under existing codes.

Yesterday, Bernalwood was contacted  by the Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA), one of the developers leading the effort to build 1296 Shotwell.  MEDA invited Bernal neighbors to attend Saturday’s community meeting. But when Bernalwood asked MEDA for updated renderings of the proposed tower, our request was declined. “The renderings can be requested the day of the meeting,” we were told.

Oh well. Since MEDA didn’t want to provide advance guidance on the proposal they want our community to discuss, let’s review what we know about 1296 Shotwell, based on previous disclosures.

Here is a rendering of 1296 Shotwell released earlier this year. The building sits near the corner of Shotwell and Cesar Chavez. Labels have been added to clarify the building’s orientation:


Aerial rendering of 1296 Shotwell. Source: MEDA

A few observations:

• To date, all the renderings of 1296 Shotwell released to the media have shown views of the building from the air, as you might see it from a drone. However, that’s not how it will look to neighbors, because people don’t have wings. Aerial views of this nine-story tower camouflage the building’s bulk. To look down on 1296 Shotwell is to see it against a matching backdrop of surrounding streets and structures. In the real world, however, neighbors will look up at 1296 Shotwell, and it will be dramatically taller than any nearby buildings, with no peers or urban backdrop whatsoever. From the street, or from Bernal Heights, 1296 Shotwell will tower alone, above high above its surroundings, with only the sky as a backdrop (More on that below).

• As shown in the aerial rendering, 1296 Shotwell’s southern, Bernal-facing facade will not include any windows. Windows and balconies for residents will be on the eastern and western facades, but the north and south sides of the building will be 85′ concrete slabs.  In its basic design, 1296 Shotwell will be very similar to 2601 Mission Street, the US Bank building  on the corner of 22nd Street, built in 1963. The similarity is that 2601 Mission is also 9 stories, and it also has no windows on its short sides, with all the windows arrayed on the long ones.  Which is to say, from street-level, as a pedestrian or Bernal neighbor, the massing of 1296 Shotwell will feel like this:

Bay View Federal/US Bank Building Built: 1963 2601 Mission Street (at 22nd), San Francisco

Nine-story, slab-sided building at 2601 Mission Street

• MEDA’s illustrations of 1296 Shotwell have attempted to soften the bulk of the building’s slab-sides by including a mural on the windowless, Bernal-facing wall. A mural will add color, to be sure, but a mural isn’t architecture; It doesn’t change the basic form of the building,  or mask its height. This is easy to understand for most Bernalese, because when we look east from atop Bernal Hill today,  we see another tall slab decorated with a mural: The abandoned 197-foot grain silo on the waterfront that’s now decorated with painted balloons. The silo looks more colorful now than it did before the mural was painted, but it hasn’t gotten any less imposing, either.

Anyway, all that leads us to the rendering shown at the top of this post. Since MEDA declined to share any new renderings with the Bernal Heights community, we collaborated with a local architect to create our own, to provide Bernal neighbors with a photo-realistic representation of what 1296 Shotwell will look like in the context of the existing urban fabric. Bernalwood’s rendering shows 1296 Shotwell as seen from Precita Avenue. The building is shown to scale, as a 85-foot tower, as it would look if constructed according to MEDA’s last publicly released set of drawings, absent only a mural. Barring a dramatic change to the proposal, this is pretty much what the form of the nine-story building at 1296 Shotwell will look like if you live in northwest Bernal Heights. Hello, “Great Wall on Shotwell.”

MEDA says the community meeting this weekend is to “review and provide community input on design and streetscape” for 1296 Shotwell. If you’d like to do that, you can share your thoughts with them this Saturday, April 30, from 10 am to noon in Room 100 of Leonard Flynn School.

IMAGES: Top, street-level rendering of 1296 Shotwell via Bernalwood. Aerial rendering of rendering of 1296 Shotwell via MEDA. 2601 Mission Street by Telstar Logistics. 

39 thoughts on “Saturday: Community Meeting About “Great Wall on Shotwell”

  1. Actually, many neighbors who live uphill will, in fact, look down on 1296 Shotwell from a perspective not unlike the renderings. In fact, it will be seen by many neighbors, and visitors, from Bernal Hill Park.

    • Congrats Bernalwood, you’ve shown your true NIMBY colors. I perceived insult to your views is more important important that housing low income seniors. That is the soulless part of this.

      • That’s kinda BS. All Todd’s previous posts have been very favorable to this project, this is the first time he has tried to look at the negatives. Pretty fair overall.

  2. This is about as negative a spin as one could put on this. For the pedestrian, a wall of glass is about the same as a wall of, um, wall, so even if there were windows on the south façade, it would be similar. A mural is likely more lively than either. (Of course, the mural could be an eyesore…)

    I am a bit perplexed about MEDA’s choice to commission a non-compliant design, though. If the objective is to get affordable housing for seniors in a timely fashion, making progress contingent on legislative action seems I’ll-considered.

    Still: Build it!

  3. Two thoughts:
    1. I don’t think the planned height is “illegal”. There is a state (not city) affordable housing density bonus program already on the books and I would assume they plan to invoke it.
    2. From the looks of it, I assume the bernal facing wall is at the lot line. They probably made it a solid wall to avoid the pitfalls that come with building lot line windows (i.e., if someone builds next to you, you’re responsible for removing the offending windows and fireproofing the voids).

  4. I’m sorry I can’t come to this meeting. I’m not particular about the design but we desperately need this housing and density, so I hope they can work it out.

  5. This building is terrible. Soulless. Architecture can enliven a community, or it can create pockets of depression. This building looks like it would do the latter. Affordable housing need not be ugly and I hope the plans are changed.

    • Yes, Mark, I think that this is the real point. I imagine that few people oppose the notion of providing more housing, but there is really no reason why this experienced organization cannot use some imagination and submit a nice plan (that we could review in advance of meetings). The idea of having a 85′ mural is ridiculous; one only needs to look one block east of this proposed building to see how quickly painted public housing appearances degrade. This mural is going to look absolutely terrible in a few years….Something that is welcoming and will look nice with little upkeep is what is needed.

  6. Frankly, I kind of want them to deal with some friction simply because MEDA are so consistently obnoxious about opposing every single housing development in the Mission that isn’t their own.

    But pettiness aside, yes, it should be built. Height and all.

  7. Thank you for your research. I oppose this project especially the design. Let’s not let MEDA get away with breaking the law.

  8. YES to affordable housing for seniors! NO to living in something resembling Titograd or other Soviet bloc countries in the latter half of the last century. C’mon- we live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, can’t we do better than this? Where’s the “creative class” when you need it?

  9. What are you talking about? The developer is MEDA and they will be renting to low income seniors. How are they “making serious money on this deal”?

    Nice that you want to cut the building in half to address your aesthetic concerns. Where will the 50% of the folks that could have lived here go? If we can’t come to grips with the fact that 8 stories isn’t the end of the world, then don’t complain when the average home price hits $2 million 5-10 years from now. I own a house on 26th. I guess I should be happy that folks like you are here to keep supply low and my home value high.

    • I’m curious who you’re addressing your comments to. I don’t see Todd–or anyone else for that matter–saying anything about profit.

      And where does he propose cutting the building in half? Note that Bernalwood has been very supportive of high-density (tall) construction.

  10. The height and overall design seem fine to me but yet another ugly mural of Cesar Chavez is stupid. Please let’s move on from the mural overkill.

  11. I’ve got a sincere question for those folks who find this design “soulless”. Can you point to some new buildings of similar scale that you do like?

    (For what it’s worth, I’m fine the the design overall, but agree that a 9-story concrete wall is a bit brutal.)

  12. The height and density at this site are great ideas, and we need more affordable housing. The problem is that the current proposal is horrible urban design in that it creates a jarring, out of context, 7-story blank wall facing south (toward Cesar Chavez Street). To maintain density and the number of affordable housing units, the south facing elevation should either be pulled back from the lot line from the ground (3 to 5 feet or so – I’m not sure the code) so that the wall can have windows (may have to be fired rated). Or mitigate the blank wall by stepping the south elevation at the 3rd floor, enough so that windows could be included on the south facing wall. Each of these approaches will: 1) allow housing units with lovely south facing light; and 2) create an attractive south facing elevation rather that a blank wall. With this design move, any lost square footage could be made up by reducing the way the building is pulled back on Shotwell (the pull-back is arguably a bad urban design move as it does not hold the street wall).

    Right now, the existing adjacent building on Cesar Chavez is only two stories. With the proposed 9-story senior housing, the proposed design creates an unnecessarily unwelcoming, non-contextual urban form (of a blank wall jutting 7 stories above the existing adjacent building.) There are smart and creative design solutions to avoid creating such a poor condition, while keeping height and density.

    • +10! Thank you for putting forward some helpful and knowledgeable design ideas! We won’t get another chance to make the density beautiful so it’s important to do it now.

    • Sadly, if the architect does revise the design to create a setback on the southern facade, I could see five years from now a company trying to develop the corner lot, and people shouting it down, because it would block the view of Bernal for the seniors.

  13. Just build it. I’ll take getting seniors off the street even if it means the risk of a “unnecessarily unwelcoming, non-contextual urban form.”

  14. I think it’s a bit early to judge the building when we’ve only seen one image. The aerial rendering was chosen because it’s the only vantage point that shows the whole building- while it is taller than the surrounding buildings it is a very dense area and it is hard to get street level views. An earlier commenter correctly pointed out that a lot of people will actually see it from above (higher up the hill). I am sure the design will be refined a bit as time goes on but I do not think it is fair to compare it to those other blank facades in the Mission. The blank wall does not come down to the sidewalk, it is on a property line behind another building. The firm that is designing it has an excellent track record and I think the design will evolve prior to construction. Also, we live in a city and it’s not really that tall.

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  16. If somebody besides MEDA were building it, I am confident they would be attempting to put the clamps on it..

  17. Why would they not be able to leverage the states affordable density program which is the law already and which the city can not deny?

  18. A perfect solution to this blank facade is right in front of it. The two story structure adjacent needs to be replaced with a suitably dense 65′-85′ apartment building, with a great facade facing bernal hill. The blank wall at the property line is good design in that it prepares for an eventual neighboring building of similar scale. Until then, every time you look on that wall don’t think “ugly”, think “needy people who otherwise couldn’t be my neighbors get to live there.” And feel good. The other elevations look good now. Come on, Todd, you should feel ashamed of this post.

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