525 Harrison Site

The design for the proposed 17-story Rincon Hill development with 180 condos to replace the Sound Factory Club building at 525 Harrison Street has been refined by Solomon Cordwell Buenz for Hines.

525 Harrison Street Rendering

But the design for the project hasn’t been altered to accommodate a new Bay Bridge off-ramp to San Francisco’s Transbay Transit Center, a ramp which AC Transit has deemed “critical” to reducing transit delays, which are projected to “substantially worsen” over the next decade, and would run through the podium of Hines’ development as designed.

525 Harrison Street Rendering

The City’s Zoning Map and Planning Code don’t actually allow for the bulk of the development on the 525 Harrison Street site as proposed by Hines, but amendments to allow the project to proceed are slated to be adopted by San Francisco’s Planning Commission in three weeks time.

The amendments don’t include any contingencies for accommodating the new off-ramp, however, contingencies which AC Transit’s Board President has requested be included in the approval of any development upon the site in order to “prioritize transit infrastructure investment” in a city which is “Transit First.”

25 thoughts on “Rincon Hill Tower Redesigned, But Not For Transit”
  1. The fact that current zoning does not allow for the proposed development should settle this.

    That the Planning Commission would give an exemption to existing code regulations in this of all places is beyond me.

    If they are going to go ahead and do this then they must demand Hines accommodate the AC/Joint Powers request regarding the contra-flow off-ramp.

    I doubt the Commission demands an accommodation. If they don’t then the appropriate agencies need to start eminent domain proceedings.

    My bet is that is what Hines wants. They are not willing to accommodate a reasonable request for critically needed transit adjustments. They know what that will trigger and Hines probably will make a huge amount of money in an eminent domain buyout with lots less risk than this project would be.

    1. whoa. calm down. not everyone’s on board with the construction of a contra-flow lane and yet another freeway ramp as a “critically needed transit adjustment”.

      Frankly Hines has done exactly what any rational economic actor would do – illutrate the potential value of the property as fully built out, so as to underscore the potential impact any takings would have.

    2. By your logic, zoning doesn’t allow the destruction of existing buildings to build new freeway ramps, either.

  2. This project has been in the works for a very long time on Hines’ end. While we obviously don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes, AC transit should have demanded this much earlier in the process or should engaged Hines to buy the site if they need it that badly. There is no need to use eminant domain when you can just buy the site without forcing the sale. If the city upzones the site though, it will make the land a lot more valuable though.

    1. If the City were to up-zone the site making it more valuable and Hines refused to accommodate AC it could get messy. The eminent domain proceedings would establish a value for the site and the case would be strong that the originally zoned value should be the basis. Otherwise this looks like a quid pro quo deal to benefit Hines.

      1. This quid pro quo is pretty simple. Hines alters its design the relatively minimal amount necessary for the AC Transit lane for potential future use and SF Planning makes accommodation to compensate Hines.

        What’s the big deal?

        1. The design alteration isn’t “relatively minimal”. It is a major taking. This is all quite ridiculous…

          AC Transit has been discussing the idea of a contraflow lane for some time, but such a project has never been adopted as a regional priority. If it is such a priority, AC should have insisted on maintenance of a ROW long long ago, and not at this relatively late stage. (It’s typical of AC, however, it’s not exactly very good at long term planning….witness the decade it took to get a BRT project funded). And, parenthetically, I still can’t believe that we’re spending billions on an AC Transit bus station…the Transbay Terminal is nothing without a rail connection.

          1. AC transit has had this idea for a while but it never took of because BART didn’t support it. Back then BART worried the contraflow lane would take away from its ridership. However, its now evident that BART is seeking other ways to get commuters across the the bay since they are maxed out in capacity

          2. The slight redesign necessary is not a big deal. Do not discount that Hines took it upon themselves to design a project they knew was not within compliance of applicable zoning relying upon the assumption that they could secure a “reasonable ” variance.

            Well, now they can have that variance in exchange for the obvious alteration to their plans.

            No big deal and it gets done.

  3. If San Francisco is ‘Transit First’ I’d hate to see a city that is ‘Transit Second’.

    1. Well, that would be just about every other city in America, if not Transit Third, Fourth, or Last.

      1. I don’t see a lot of cities eliminating lanes of traffic in high traffic areas in favor of bike lanes or allowing massive increases in density with a ‘transportation will come later’ attitude.

  4. I know the City bureaucracy rarely considers the effects of their decisions on others in the region – e.g moving the Warriors arena and leaving Oakland high and dry – But why would the City up-zone this particular site if the effect is to just make the AC Transit project more expensive? The City has a lot riding on the success of the new trans-bay terminal that this bus lane will serve. The way Ed Lee is going any regional cooperation is about to start falling apart in a big way.

  5. For decades, I’ve mocked Houston for its lack of zoning regulation, and here we go letting people live twenty feet from a freeway.

    I’m gonna miss the mocking…

  6. It reminds me of when the city approved a high rise on land that they knew was needed for the new Transbay Terminal. When the developer went broke, the city passed on the chance to buy the property at auction. They ended up paying a bundle later.

  7. who wouldn’t want to live 10-ft from a freeway. throw open the doors after work, step onto your tiny balcony, and take it all in — the exhaust, road rage, bumper to bumper traffic — SF really is special.

    1. All of those people stuck behind the wheel in that traffic on their way to a 2 hour commute to the outer suburbia.

    2. Note: there are no balconies right next to the freeway.

      (But hey, we know how one can’t let “facts” get in the way of “rhetoric”)

  8. That the City would rezone a site that a developer speculatively bought and which has already been identified as a parcel possibly needs for a critical transit project of regional importance would be the biggest boondoggle in many years in this region. The Planning Commission would have egg on its face and ought to be tarred and feathered for considering this without assurances or compromises that ensure the transit project is both feasible and not rendered more expensive.

  9. We suggest tarring and feathering further up the ladder and than also back down to the commissions and bodies that enact poor planning policies, without the publics best interests in mind…

    We just see more towers, not solutions to the transit issues, which is the crux of the problem today.

  10. Yes, the project has been in the Hines back log for a couple of years. I recently met the Hines Director that is overseeing the design and process at an industry event. The project has alot of risk, more than what Hines is typically willing to embrace as a development managing partner (minority equity). The fact that project will be late to the current condo/apartment development trend, indicates that Hines will sell the project to another developer after city approvals and entitlement.

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