88 Arkansas Rendering: 17th Street

While Martin Building Company’s proposed development of 127 apartments and a Del Popolo pizzeria at 88 Arkansas and 17th Street, across from Jackson Park in Lower Potrero Hill, was approved by San Francisco’s Planning Commission in a fast-tracked hearing last month, the Potrero Boosters Neighborhood Association has filed an appeal.

Per San Francisco’s Eastern Neighborhoods Plan, at least 40% of the units in a new development are required to have two or more bedrooms.  And while the stated unit mix for 88 Arkansas does include 41 two-bedrooms and 10 three-bedrooms, or 40.2% of the 127 units, the two and three-bedrooms were designed with “nested” bedroom layouts that don’t have exterior windows, layouts which are legal per San Francisco’s Building Code but which don’t appear to meet the standards of the Eastern Neighborhoods plan.

As such, the Boosters have appealed the exception to the Unit Mix Requirement which was granted by Planning in order to approve the 88 Arkansas project, arguing that the project fails to meet the specific criteria for an exception to be granted.

Next week, San Francisco’s Board of Appeals will decide whether to uphold the unit mix exception and Planning’s approval for the 88 Arkansas project or send the development back to the drawing boards.

42 thoughts on “Boosters put Potrero Development and Del Popolo at Risk”
  1. Honestly anyone who knows me on these pages knows I am mightily against what has been done to our city. Its been ruined by greedy, stupid, tasteless money laundering payola thugs. That said what on earth is wrong with this little blip on the pimply face of Ed Lee’s new San FranAssCo? Its a blemish. Meanwhile the boosters tend to their pot gardens while all hell breaks loose. I don’t get it. But then I don’t get mean old hippy progeny regardless.

  2. Obviously, the “Boosters” don’t give a rat’s ass about the quality of the housing being marketed here, but are simply being obstructionist as to ANYthing being built there. One might wonder why the developers would propose something subject to a technical objection. A more telling question would be whether their opponents have ever heard of that “affordability” so much in the news lately.

  3. I’m not so sure I’d write the Boosters off as NIMBYs. If the requirements of an agreed upon plan aren’t being met, then I think that’s an issue. To me this feels like a developer cutting corners and not being entirely on the up and up.

    1. You cannot seriously believe their concern has to do with the substance of their argument. They’re simply seizing upon a hypertechnical point made possible by a ridiculously rigid “plan” to try to thwart what would undeniably be of benefit to the community in advancing what they perceive to be in their narrow self-interest. Hopefully, the Board of Appeals (unnecessary gadfly body that it is) will quickly dispatch their effort so that this much needed housing can finally move forward which is what the compromise Eastern Neighborhoods Plan was supposed to be all about.

    2. What if I don’t want my bedroom to have windows? I guess I’m legally not allowed to have that in Potrero Hill. The man has decided for me.

    3. Nowhere in the Eastern Neighborhood Plan Area (ENPA) is any specific language against “nested bedrooms”. Nested Bedrooms are allowed by the Building Code and they are allowed as a matter of course throughout the rest of the City.

      A few years back, the Zoning Administrator made an Interpretation disallowing nested bedrooms in the ENPA that they have since revoked. They have wisely decided to revisit this inconsistent policy and allow such bedroom throughout the City, without exception.

      The Board of Appeals will uphold the Planning Commissions decision and support the Planning Dept’s revised and more consistent position.

      The NIMBY Portrero Hill Boosters will lose this bogus Appeal.

      1. I believe they are arguing that since the Plan does not expressly state that the 2-bedroom requirement can be met by inclusion of a “nested bedroom,” the project requires an exception. It appears the exception was sought and granted by Planning out of an abundance of caution though it is certainly not clear that one is needed. Just the “Boosters” grasping at straws in a desperate attempt to block ANYthing from being built. Expect their appeal to be denied.

  4. I believe I’ve seen plenty of instances where neighborhood groups have opposed plans that have otherwise met all in-place zoning and permitting laws .. but in this case while the discrepancy is small, it’s legit. We have laws in place for a reason, do people see a problem with groups trying to ensure they’re actually being enforced?

    The developer knew the law in advance, it was always there. Do we think it’s somehow impossible for a developer to profitably build this parcel such that we need to compromise existing laws? Did they advance this proposal because there’s just no way the condos will pencil out without violating this provision? Or do we think they’re just trying to bend rules the city enacted – in a way they calculated they might get away with – in order to create the units that are more profitable to them?

    1. Of what possible relevance is the subjective state-of-mind of the developers in designing their proposed project? Only if you’re of a mindset to decide issues impacting the interests of the City dependent upon begrudging another’s profiting upon providing a beneficial resource. It is really a matter between the developer and its customer base as to the value of the product it’s offering. It may turn out that the “nested bedrooms” prove so unappealing that prices will have to be slashed and the seller takes a bath. What’s it to ya?

      And, the developer DID “follow the law.” It submitted a proposal along with request for a minor variance which was wisely granted by Planning. Are you now going to contend that they cynically expected a bureaucratic rubber-stamp of their non-compliant project? Tell that to Teatro ZZ!

  5. My understanding is that bedrooms have to have windows, 8% window/floor area ratio, of which 2% has to be openable. People get around this by calling rooms without windows studies or dens or media rooms. But the requirements for this site was for a certain number of bedrooms.

    The developer is trying to cheat. Why cheer him on?

    1. Because it’s a stupid f’ing rule. If you don’t want an apartment without windows, don’t buy/rent one. Some people will prefer them or not mind. Problem solved. Why does the government need to tightly control apartment layouts? This is insane.

  6. The developer is not trying “to get away with” anything. They have proposed units that will sell for a price they judge most salable in the neighborhood. Window, no windows, stucco box or international style glass, it doesn’t matter. Units basically sell on a $$ per square foot basis. They can do larger units where all bedrooms are on exterior walls, adding several hundred square feet and several hundred thousand $$ in the price of each unit. Then listen to the whiners holler about “luxury” units ruining the neighborhood.

    1. Jim, are you serious? Just let anyone build anything and let the “market” decide if it beneficial? Oh wait, that’s Houston.

  7. They are required to build a certain percentage of units as 2 BRs. They could accomplish this by changing the floor plans and adding light wells or courtyards. But light wells and courtyards would reduce the number of units possible, so they’re trying to get away with not having them.

  8. The very first building code in America was the requirement for light and air in habitable rooms.

    At the turn of the century in New York developers were building huge buildings with no light and air in the interior rooms, pestilence and disease were rampant. To combat this the “Tenement Codes” were developed. This requirement for light and air has been in every code sense then. This is not a trivial thing.

    Occasionally jurisdictions grant variances to code requirements when there is a “compelling public benefit” however, in this case the only benefit falls to the developer who gets to save the cost of a light-well. Exactly why are the Boosters bad for opposing this give away? Would you live in such a hovel with no light and no fresh air?

    1. I suspect we have a “Booster” here.

      I hardly believe these dwellings will constitute “hovels” without light or fresh air. We’re merely talking about some interior rooms for sleeping in some of the units. They are after all, fully legal pursuant to the very applicable building code you seek to invoke.

      And, SF Planning is hardly notorious for letting developers “get away” with shortcuts or variances inimical to the public benefit. Far to the contrary as we have seen repeatedly even in recent weeks.

      These NIMBYs’ officious action here should be contrasted with the approach of “Save the Hill” (yeah, I know, there is probably some shared identities with the two groups) with regard to the two developers’ proposals to demolish and rebuild the Corovan warehouse site a few blocks to the east. They actually hired an architect to develop a full alternative plan with which to refurbish and repurpose most of the existing arguably historic structures currently there. Had it been an initial proposal of a developer, its praises would likely be sung here.

      That kind of constructive opposition is to be sharply distinguished from the pure obstructionism being employed by the so-called “Boosters.”

      1. No, I don’t think he’s a “booster”. I would largely agree with him. Building codes are written to protect the “health, safety and welfare” of occupants. That means humane, livable spaces to inhabit.

        We’re not some slum in India. We’re a modern urban American society. Housing should reflect that.

        Building housing without a window in ALL bedrooms is a cheap way for developers to make more profit. It may not be illegal, it may not be immoral (although it could be). It’s simply DUMBING down of the quality of housing for people in San Francisco.

    2. Michael Hamman, why did the first building codes require natural light in all habital rooms? Hmm…let’s see…could it be because THERE WAS NO ELECTRICITY WHEN THE FIRST BUILDING CODE CAME OUT?

      Are you seriously comparing pre-1920’s conditions to today? Yea, that’s an apples-to-apples comparison.

    3. We’re not in the 19th-century; today, we have access to state of the art highly efficient mechanical and electrical systems.

      The nested bedrooms not only fully comply with the strict requirements of the SF Building and Housing Codes, the entire building is subject to Article 38 in the SF Health Code which requires MERV13 mechanically-provided filtered air in all habitable rooms of the project.

      This provides cleaner, fresher and overall better indoor air quality (basically HEPA-level filtration) than the unnecessary light wells that you favor which are, by the way, not a Code requirement.

      Furthermore, have you ever slept in a nested bedroom?
      I have and can say that they’re really quiet and provide a high degree of protection and privacy — which is especially nice in an urban environment which can often be noisy at all hours.

      1. Yea. all fine and good the way you’re attempting to spin this. Yes, meeting the codes and safety is primary. totally agree.

        But isn’t it NICE to have a window in a bedroom to actually see out and open up once in a while to let in fresh air? Is that such a bad thing?

        1. What’s really nice is being able to afford housing in an area where one wants to live. If these units are so “inferior,” it will be reflected in the price. Just one way to make SF housing more affordable and not so “luxurious.”

  9. Whether this appeal gets immediately rejected or not, these [reactionaries] are slowly boosting themselves to irrelevance. They don’t speak for a majority of residents in the neighborhood. The population of Potrero Hill is growing and it’s growing younger, more diverse and more upwardly mobile. Go to a Boosters meeting and it’s all old white empty-nesters and a few granola types. The new residents are not scared of development and urbanization.

  10. Maybe not as often as broken clocks, but even “old white empty-nesters and a few granola types” can be right once in a while.

    Habitable rooms have to have windows for light and air. The planning department excludes kitchens from the definition of habitable room and has recently carved out an exception for media rooms, dens and studies. There is no exception for bedrooms.

    The Eastern Neighborhood Plan requires 40% of the units have 2 bedrooms, not one bedroom and a study.

    1. Considering myself a “classic Liberal,” I’m generally quite receptive to use of government to shape and influence the body politic. However, I find SF’s “family-friendly” zoning policies suspiciously odious.

      The ratio of households with children here is not among the lowest in the country because the existing housing stock is not conducive to raising nuclear families. There are other very real reasons. Forcing construction of dwelling units for which there is no market is fancifully wasteful. Why must 40% of all residences be required to include 2 “bedrooms” if 65% of the prospective buyers do not want them?

  11. I am all for this project – and no fan if the so-called “boosters”. But no exterior windows in the bedroom? Really? You have got be kidding! For once the boosters have it right.

    San Francisco is not some bad Ann Rice novel / Buffy the Vampire Slayer soundstage. If anything, the Planning Department should be looking to increase the light and air requirements – not chuck them out the non-existent window. 🙂

    1. They are probably shared light bedrooms that get natural light through another room. San Francisco allows this, they aren’t windowless caves.

      1. I guess it depends on your definition of windowless caves. If I understand the concept the rooms are certainly windowless. So I would describe any windowless room as at least a closet if not a cave… But maybe a large number of those techie newcomer s hail from Transylvania and want something with no sunlight.

  12. I can’t find a cite right now, but I believe the “borrowed light” rule requires there be an opening in the wall between the rooms of 50%.

    1. The building is Type IB Construction (concrete frame with steel stud infill walls and fully fire sprinklered) which is nearly the most fire-proof type of construction out there. The only higher Type would be IA — which is generally only use for skyscrapers. Accordingly, for Type I Construction, emergency egress windows are not required. Emergency egress windows are generally only required in wood-framed construction and then only at the 4th story and below.

  13. The fact that the Boosters’ complaint may have technical merit does not make it morally correct. If I were to report every single lawbreaking behavior I observe to the police – and we all konw that’s a target-rich environment in SF – I would be technically correct but I would also be a pedantic fool.

    Who are the Boosters and why do they think it’s any of their business to protest if the Planning Commission has granted an exception to this developer? The Boosters don’t speak for the neighborhood, they have no democratic mandate, and what vested interest could they possibly have? Did they put down payments on these units expecting the floor plan to conform to an arbitrary neighborhood plan?

    This is absolutely a classic case of certifiable grade A NIMBY obstruction by people who have nothing better to do. It’s an insult to every taxpaying citizen that the Planning Department has to waste time responding to this frivolous nonsense.

        1. Maybe not you. But it clearly does matter to me and many other people commenting on the thread. And clearly the Board of Appeals feels it matters enough to hear the case. Greed may yet win out at the expense of doing what is right – but speaking up matters.

  14. And finally this project is moving ahead. With any luck people get to move in 5 years after the NIMBY appeal was denied. I know there was some asbestos involved, but fogging hell things take forever in this city.

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