439 Washington Site

While principally zoned for development up to 200-feet in height, Peninsular Realty’s plans to demolish the two-story Il Massimo building at 439 Washington Street and construct a 22-story hotel, with 189 rooms over 3,500 square feet of retail space, have been tentatively deemed too big for the site.

439 Washington Elevation Proposed

And in fact, San Francisco’s Planning Department is recommending that the proposed height of the development be cut in half.

As proposed, the 101,000 square foot tower exceeds the allowable Floor Area Ratio for the 4,700 square foot lot, even with Transferable Development Rights applied for a maximum ratio of 18:1. In addition, the tower would need to be redesigned by Stanton Architecture for tower separation setbacks above 90-feet in height. And based on the City’s preliminary review, the proposed 200-foot tower would likely cast significant, shadows on a number of nearby public parks and open spaces, including Maritime Plaza, the Embarcadero Center Plazas, Sydney G. Walton Square, Transamerica Redwood Park and Sue Bierman Park, shadows which are disallowed by San Francisco’s Sunlight Ordinance.

Finally, as the project site is located in a transitional zone between Downtown and the Jackson Square historic district, the Planning Department is recommending that, “the building height might be more appropriate at 90′ to 100′.”

We’ll keep you posted and plugged-in.

55 thoughts on “Planning Recommends Proposed 200-Foot Tower Be Cut in Half”
    1. No, it’s not a joke. Read the regulations again. while it seems arbitrary and rather silly on the surface, there are legitimate reasons to modulate the height of buildings. Just because one building is next to a taller building does not, in fact, give it complete freedom to match that adjacent height.

      The variation in scale, height and massing is important to good urban planning in any downtown.

      1. Yesterday you said that property developers should be allowed to building whatever they are zoned for, today you are saying that they should build below the zoning because of “scale, variation, height.” So much irony in everything you say, including your screenname.

        1. Not irony at all, but a keen understanding of the planning code. Plenty of clauses in it to allow for variation, but up and down. It’s not black and white, in case you don’t realize that. nothing is.

          Each project is reviewed and should be reviewed in the actual context in which it sits; adjacencies, open space, shadowing and parks are ALL part of the final decision.

          1. Funny that housing costs and demand don’t factor at all into your fantasy based version of reality.

          2. No, they don’t. I don’t subscribe to the “fantasy” belief that building more and building higher (housing at least) will make The City more “affordable”. Can’t afford to live in the heart of the city, then don’t.

            London and Paris are far from affordable, yet they are great, livable cities.

          3. So then don’t build anything? The ones that already made it here are the only ones that can stay? I propose we put up a fence around SF.. not to keep people out, but to keep you all in.

          4. Paris (and particularly it immediate surrounding areas) is more affordable than SF and its immediately surrounding burbs.

            I am this minute looking at a small 1 bedroom condo in the 8e, 37 m2 (400 sq ft) for 330,000 euros ($370k). Good luck finding something that cheap in SF that isn’t an income restricted BMR or in the Bayview.

            And the prices drop a lot quicker once immediately outside the city limits. Unsurprisingly, Paris is something like 4 times as dense as SF.

            The market works. Except for NIMBYs. Whose property values go down when we build more units.

      2. If we want variation we need to pull back the height restrictions. These absurd limits are making everyone build up to the max height and then stop.

    2. FFS, this is ridiculous. And, I hope, a ripe takings claim if someone is limited to a 100′ tower in an area zoned for 200′.

      And shadows on Maritime Plaza and Embarcadero Center Plazas? When, for a couple days around the solstice? The site is *NW* of Embarcadero Center. FFS, I reiterate.

    3. I agree… one of these days, I sincerely hope that the “un-planning department” will be taken over by all who wish for more tourist accommodations and are not afraid to provide the same. If I were a tourist, I would love to look out my window and see that structure. But then, perhaps it should be only a parking lot? (arg!!!!!)

  1. This building would need exceptions to the existing code given the proposal.

    I’m told there is a need for more hotel rooms in the City. Fine.

    But why not build on an infill lot in the traditional financial district, within blocks, which permits the parameters as proposed in this plan?

    1. Because towers half the height of existing towers built in infill lots int he financial district are blocked by NIMBYS too? (cough) 555 Washington (cough)

      1. As well as ludicrous zoning, such as “preserves” the homeless cesspool, er, all the “historic” low-rise buildings between Drumm and Sansome, California and Sacramento. Half the “traditional financial district” is off limits for any higher building or redevelopment.

        Besides which, with One Maritime directly east, Transamerica directly west, and the concrete atrocities of Gateway Center to the N and NE, it’s not like this is far outside whatever you envision as the “traditional financial district” – IMHO it’s quite within the financial district by any measure.

        1. This used to be a warehouse district, with a lot of it bulldozed in the 60s/70s for such beauties as One Maritime, the Embarcadero Complex and Gateway. In turn, these projects built a 30 story wall to the north. I’m not saying this all this area should have been preserved, but consideration should be taken to monitor high rise sprawl within a workable city and neighborhood plan. On the flip side, there are huge buildings going up left and right in traditionally low-rise areas of NYC, like Chelsea, as either infill projects or replacing single story buildings. It definitely changes the skyline, but the area still retains its identity.

        2. Concrete “atrocities”? really? You seem to forget they were built in the late 60’s early 70s…should they be torn down now? they were and are simply examples of urban modernism.

          How long should a building last, in your opinion, before it becomes an atrocity?

          1. Is the streetwall of One Maritime worth preserving? Is it a good building because it’s an example of what it is, or because it actually works according to what we normally demand of good urban buildings?

          2. @Futurist – at what point, anywhere, did I say Gateway Center should be torn down? You consistently bring your own agenda to other peoples’ comments, and it’s really getting old. While I do think by any objective measure Gateway Center *is* ugly – and there are plenty of Brutalist buidlings that I do like, including Embarcadero Center – the only point of my comment’s 2nd paragraph was that there are already multiple high-rise buildings north of Clay, in response to @Dave.

          3. Of course you didn’t Sierrajeff. And I didn’t say YOU did, but merely asked you if they should be torn down. read again.

            And so, what would you do with the concrete atrocities? They actually provide a lot of quality housing, and offer open space, private space and landscaping that is appropriate.

  2. It is simply misleading to say that the site is zoned for 200′, considering that the 200′ building proposed does not conform to a host of existing zoning regulations, including separation of towers, setbacks, etc. A height designation alone does not determine the scale of building that can be built on a parcel.

    The simplistic write-up and headline by Socketsite seems more intended to generate animosity toward the Planning Dept than to convey information.

    “Principally zoned for 200 feet?” That terms is meaningless. To build anything above, basically 100 feet in the downtown, the rules say you have to have minimum 15 feet setback above that height along all property lines to maintain light and air to buildings and streets and such. So if you have a parcel too small to build a building with those setbacks, the fact is that is simply not “principally zoned” (to use socketsite-speak) to allow for a building taller than 100 feet even if the ostensible height limit is taller.

    The headline should have said, “Speculative Developer Seeks Windfall and Submits Application for Building That Violates Numerous Zoning Regulations and Asks for Exceptions Despite the Fact that He Purchased the Land Knowing Full Well What the Zoning Allows.” And the voters spoke on shadows in 1985, so if you want Planning to give different feedback, then you best muster a new ballot initiative to change the policy.

    1. Yes there are laws in place, but there are also variances and exceptions that can be granted. Rather than working with the developer to find a reasonable solution, it’s troubling to see that they “recommend” something half the height. Its place among other towers in the FiDi seems appropriate.

  3. This development would make much more sense on Sacramento Street. Washington Street is Jackson Square territory – short brick buildings. I don’t think anything tall should ever be built north of Clay (not just because I want to preserve my office views, but because I like the wall that is created by the Embarcadero Center. Urban growth boundaries and height limits make for more distinct neighborhoods and a better city.

    1. Except you already have One Maritime (398′), Gateway East (230′), and the Transamerica Pyramid (853′), all within one block of this site, all already north of Clay. To name a few. (And to be clear, I like the stark look of Embarcadero Center from the north too – but that’s not going away anyway, as the blocks north of Three and Four is protected parks. And, again, One Maritime already interferes with the “wall” for purposes of Two and One.

  4. The SF Sunlight Ordinance… classic [Board of Supervisor] stuff

    [Editor’s Note: Except it was adopted by voters in San Francisco, not the Board.]

  5. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the city and its various departments for doing its part to help keep density and housing constrained and helping to keep both real estate and airbnb at prime rates.

  6. When you drive across the bay bridge west bound, the view of the hills is now blocked by towers, the peaks signal tower, is framed by two behemoths.

    The proposal simply is to retain the view corridors to the iconic buildings that define the urban city.

    Bank of America Tower is the ugliest building in SF and ruins the image of the city from the Golden Gate Bridge…

    Its about understanding more than $$$ and square foot calculations, its about good solid urban planning, and when to restrict and when to allow height……

    For those ignoring the SF Sunlight Ordinance, make sense of the issue but don’t ignore it, perhaps we should rectify it by building DOWNWARDS below grade for your office tower complex height needs,? put the ceo’s 200′ or more below grade, seems like the closer to hell we get the less the heating bills is needed for the building….

    1. Thank you for sticking up for the most marginalized people in the Bay Area — drive alone auto commuters coming across the Bay Bridge from Orinda.

    2. Prevent buildings to be built because they block the view of other builidings. Here you have it folks, SF NIMBYism at its finest. Enjoy your $4,000 month rent and $10 toast!

  7. It really doesn’t matter. This is on the wrong side of downtown (i.e.: within view of Telegraph Hill). There is no chance of it getting built since it would represent even the tiniest change to the view corridor of the all-powerful THDA.

    Still, it’s funny that Planning wants it cut in half, while also asking to make it appear more slender.

  8. Mr. Goodman: The B of A building is not remotely the ugliest building in SF. The Park Central Hotel is in the running for that honor in my opinion.

    1. the intercontinental, the federal building and 8 octavia could all make a run for ugliest buildings

        1. Care to elaborate? Or, should we just run with the fact that architecture is purely subjective? As for your comment above defending the nearby “atrocities,” the point is not so much the architectural style that’s in question, rather that these buildings created a concrete wall at the north end of the financial district.

          1. I admire and respect the work of Morphosis: they are recognized by architects and professionals around the world as a talented, idea driven firm. They are not without design controversy, but there work is unique, interesting and outstanding. And yes, their work is generally not understood or liked by the “man on the street”.

            Emb Center defines the edge of the downtown and financial district, not merely seen as a concrete ‘wall”.

          2. The main reason “Emb Center defines the edge of the downtown and financial district” is that the Filipino and Chinese communities fought to stop Shorenstein, Hermann, and the rest of the downtown builders and city hall redevelopers. And people stepped up to declare Jackson Sq the first historic district in SF to stave off the encroaching FiDi.

            Emb Center, Transamerica, and BoA mark the battle lines, not some grand design of a sculpted skyline by master architects or artistic developers or visionary planners in city hall. Mostly ugly thuggish buildings by almost any standard that destroyed Manilatown, which was also not so pretty.

            Let’s not ignore the history of the place and act like those were ever supposed to be the northern end of the march of skyscrapers in SF. Just ask Ed Lee, he got started in SF politics fighting Shorenstein at the I-Hotel.

          3. Thuggish buildings? wow, that’s a new low. A new architectural term?

            so what else do you utterly hate about our downtown?

          4. I don’t hate our downtown, utterly or at all. Silly misplacement of emotion to love or hate things that can’t reciprocate, IMO.

            If “thuggish” sets a new low for you, then you must have lived a very sheltered life. BTW, is “hate” a new architectural term?

            Why don’t you respond to the material point: your ahistorical appreciation of the place of the Emb Center in the SF downtown, and that those tombstones were never intended to be the edge of the FiDi.

    2. I agree with @Mr. Goodman, though – the reddish brown hulk of the B of A building is an eyesore when viewing the city from afar – whereas most of the other nominees in these comments at least share the light coloring that make S.F. so nice looking from afar, and hence blend in (can you even remember noticing the Intercontinental on the skyline, when viewed from the Marin Headlands)?

  9. Mr. Goodman makes a good point that the view coming across on the BB is now of a wall of towers. Virtually no sense of the famous hills that one could see even a decade ago from the bridge.

    The view from Diamond Heights has been corrupted too. Before the RH towers one could see the lights of the BB at night between SF and TI. Mostly gone from view now.

    The skyline looks dismal, it was a mistake to not have planned this out with a keen sense of the terrain.

    That ship has sailed a long time ago – unfortunately.

    Its down to preserving certain views of iconic urban structures – sad it has come to this.

    At this point all that can be don is stop the hi-rise sprawl in SF sprawl the PC is encouraging with Van ness/Market and with several selected sites in West SOMA that could go higher than 8 stories.

    The time may come where a defacto permanent freeze on building heights has to be implemented across SF.

    1. When you base your arguments defending the views of drivers coming across the Bay Bridge, or the largely unchanged views from all the way back in Diamond Heights, you’ve lost.

    2. Height limits are what caused the impenetrable block of buildings that form most of downtown. We should have gotten fewer but taller buildings.

  10. Agreed. And now that they’ve torn down the Jack Tar, I guess I’ll nominate the Mariott as most ugly. Well, maybe not ugly, just offensive.

    1. I know people who love that Marriott building and fondly think of it as part of the San Francisco landscape. Yuck.

      1. there are thousands of uglier buildings in SF than the intercontinental (not that that is a good thing), including the (ob)structure next to it on howard. There are entire blocks of houses in SF that are uglier than any of the buildings mentioned above (not that that’s a good thing). It took me years to get used to the high percentage of cruddy buildings in SF. And such small portions.

        1. I grew up here and did not realize the les than stellar architecture of most of SF until I went away to college and lived in a different urban area for 6 years.

          Its not just the blocky buildings and towers downtown/SOMA it is entire blocks of houses.

          The Sunset and especially 19th and the drive along the Great Highway. I’ve had more than one visitor/guest tell me they found the area around the Great Highway to be one of the ugliest stretches of urban ocean front property they had seen.

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