While opposed by neighbors whose property line windows and verandas will be blocked (along with stated concerns about construction noise and the displacement of the mature trees on the site), the plans for a pair of super skinny Hayes Valley buildings to rise up to five stories at 300 and 350 Octavia Street are slated to be approved by San Francisco’s Planning Commission next week.

As designed Envelope A+D and proposed by Bay Area Urban Development, the two identical buildings would measure 11,761 square feet apiece, with 943 square feet of ground-floor retail space, eight studios, four two-bedrooms, and 960 square feet of rooftop open space on each of the two former Central Freeway Parcels M and N, each of which are a little over 18-feet wide.

The modern buildings would be outfitted with perforated bronze mechanical louvers, “allowing the residents to raise or lower the exterior shades on the building combines a functional architectural feature while contributing to a dynamic façade that is constantly in flux.”

And while the mass of the buildings, which would extend along the east side of Octavia Boulevard between Fell and Oak, bisected by Hickory, would cast some shadows on the cater-corner Patricia’s Green, San Francisco’s Parks Department has deemed the development’s projected 244,000 net new square-foot-hours of annual shadow, a 0.37 percent decrease in potential sunlight on the park, “insignificant” with respect to the City’s Sunlight Ordinance, a finding which the Planning Commission is poised to adopt.

76 thoughts on “Super Skinny Hayes Valley Buildings Slated for Approval”
  1. Does anyone know the status of Parcels R & S which are a little further south on that side of Octavia?

    Best I can ascertain, Build originally intended to develop them (dubbed the Karl and Neopolitan) as market rate and obtained full entitlements. However, it then decided to make them a portion of its BMR requirement for nearby One Oak which it is also developing, but rather than do the actual work itself, deeded the properties to the Mayor’s Office of Development along with a cash contribution to cover its offsite responsibility.

    Another developer was to then be named to do the build out but I don’t know if that has been done yet, or, if so, when it is contemplated work will begin.

    1. The freeway being torn down had many many many benefits. Hayes Valley is a renewed neighborhood and Octavia looks great.

      1. But the freeway being there is The Past. Any change from The Past is by definition a bad, bad thing in Sabbie World.

  2. I don’t live there but feel for the poor neighbors – while not monster sized they are too tall ie, ill proportioned.

    1. Totally disagree. These new bldgs are 5 stories tall – there are existing 5-story buildings right across the street. Go there and walk around as I have and see for yourself.

      Also, empty lots attract crime. If I lived next door, I’d be glad to have this new bldg. But that’s micro-thinking anyway.

  3. Can’t help but feel sorry for whoever lives on the bottom floors of the neighboring building with the verandas. Their apts are going to be as dark as a tomb.

  4. I’m all for building up density in this neighborhood, BUT, in this case and at this location, those VERY narrow strips of land should be designated public open space/park space and NOT built upon. Their size and adjacency to the existing housing will seriously affect the quality of life in those units: no more sunlight into the balconies or windows.

    In this case, the new project should be completely denied.

    1. How absurd. Those dwellings previously were overwhelmed by a double-decked freeway. They can’t claim the present situation as their “normal.” The proposed new, further housing is far better than the status quo ante.

      These are pioneering, unique urban uses of demonstration quality which should be encouraged.

      1. Thank you Orland….the owners of those building bought when their property was up against an elevated freeway. Or, if they bought after it was torn down, knew these parcels might get developed. So, hard to feel pity when the property values in that area soared after the tear-down. Am I seeing this wrong?

      2. The building I live in one house over from this proposal was built in the 19th century. It was overwhelmed, along with the rest of the block, by the freeway. Freeway demolition brought us back to normal daylight. The sidewalk is already inadequate to accommodate pedestrian traffic. Housing on that lot is what is absurd.

    2. If you mean the victorian in the photo, they have front windows, a rear yard and rear windows. I don’t recall if there are any windows on the side, but if there are, they’d be the standard dining room bay, which is usually butted up against the building next door anyway. Most were built that way.

      1. Primarily referring to the building at Hickory and Octavia. Their balconies will be very negatively impacted by the new project. As I mentioned IN THIS PARTICULAR PIECE OF LAND, it seems more positive to not build on the narrow strip, but rather keep it as open space. People benefit.

        And no, Orland, those buildings were not immediately adjacent to the freeway overpass. So now you’re accepting an even worse condition when the new buildings go up? And no, this is not a “pioneering” new urban use of space. This is bad urban planning, in this location.

        1. Futurist, the “balconies” you’re referring to which belong to 375 Fell St. are exterior egress corridors. In my 20 plus years in the neighborhood I’ve never seen anyone hang out there. The residents there have a great common courtyard which rests above their parking podium.

          Orland is absolutely correct. Both the victorian on Oak and the Fell St. apartments WERE adjacent to the Fell and Oak off and on-ramps of the Central Freeway.

          As a neighborhood we have Patricia’s Green and Proxy the next block over. This is great infill, the city collects property tax, the neighborhood gets new residents and vibrant ground floor retail. How is that bad urban planning again?

          1. It’s bad urban planning because consideration MUST be given to neighborhood context and the value of natural light into existing properties.

            This strip of land has zero to do with Patricia’s green, but rather the fact that NOT every piece of open space and land in SF need be built upon. Open space can be passive as well, and does not have to be validated by becoming an “active” park. The “build it now and everywhere” crowd simply has drunk the Kool-Aid of trendy, unlimited growth.

            The architecture itself is interesting and elegant; just not at this location.

          2. I absolutely agree with Futurist.

            Its not as if new SF development is providing and real significant street level open/green space. For instance the Hub which, as envisioned so far, is woeful in regards to its streetscape.

            Paving over/developing every lot, no matter how small, is one of the things that is/has been degrading the quality of life in SF for more than a decade now. IMO.

          3. Agree with Futurist and Dave (ice crystals forming in Hades as we speak?) – the whole Octavia Boulevard concept would look and feel better if these are retained as slivers of greenspace (tear down the fences, make them open to the public) rather than bizarrely narrow walls (and, with the shutters down, there’s no other way to describe these buildings than “walls”).

          4. I would generally agree that Octavia would probably be best served with expanded greenery. However, as someone who drives this route pretty much every day, I am pretty certain that any such public green space would be quickly overrun with panhandlers, bums and campers (not necessarily mutually exclusive categories.). Unless SF is serious about assuring that this would not be the result, it’s probably better if it ends up as housing.

          5. If, ten years ago, we had planned to allocate some of the former freeway lots to public use, the sensible thing would have been to continue Patricia’s Green through the Hayes-to-Grove block and make a bigger park.

            I’m no huge fan of building on the narrow lot, but in terms of “open space” and “neighborhood experience”, those lots are on a pretty unpleasant boulevard. It’s no accident that the only way to get people to use those lots at all is to ply them with beer.

          6. I’ll repeat myself: these buildings will have a significance far outweighing considerations of light and air or open space in the immediate neighborhood. Yet, they will make a greater contribution to Octavia.

            I just wish they would get built as planned already.

          7. When buildings of any kind start having “significance far outweighing light and air” then we have ceased to understand that great livable cities are NOT just made of buildings and roadways and paving, but rather of the quality and quantity of open space, green space, “leftover” space that is not seen as needing to be “in filled” (hate that term).

            There are probably people here who would prefer to see Dolores Park filled with buildings to bring in more tax revenue, as if that’s the over-riding goal of new development.

          8. Well my home has a “significance far outweighing light and air”. Maybe Futurist doesn’t feel the same way.

        2. 375 Fell was built in ’94. By that point most people knew the freeway was coming down. The only people you should be blaming for those balconies being shut in by new construction are the people who designed them.

          1. Our neighborhood context Futurist is that we are a centrally located community in the heart of SF that is seeking to repair the damage that the Central Freeway has wrought and that these parcels when developed will not only provide much needed housing but will also mark the final transformation of Octavia Blvd. which will only be complete when those empty lots are filled. Which is precisely what we had in that location before 1959.

            I’m not drinking any Kool-Aid — I’m Kermit quietly sipping my tea.

      1. We’re an urban society where neighbors’ decisions impact one another, and we don’t like to pretend that it’s sane or moral for everyone to just make self-centered decisions in a vacuum?

    3. If they want to preserve their “view” and “light”, they are perfectly free to call up the City and offer to purchase air rights easements over the property, at fair market value. Demands about “rights” to views and light corridors are just so much NIMBY’s attempting to extract property interests from adjacent property owners without paying for those property interests.

      Futurist should start calling him/herself “Backwardist”. It would be more accurate.

      1. There are defined Planning Code components that address “light and air” accessible to adjacent properties. I’m not talking about views.

      1. Yes, there is a lot like this in Tokyo.

        Part of the reason Tokyo is such a vibrant and interesting city is because of the irregular lots and the relatively unplanned development patterns.

    4. Futurist, the narrow footprint of the these lots would have been absolutely perfect for the transitional tent housing advocates propose allowing on San Francisco sidewalk.

      We could add a pissior, or a JCDecaux toilet for matters requiring privacy such as self medication and personal interviews.

      The Patricia’s Green open space allows access to the sun and a place to take the homeless’ dogs to lounge, all while allowing their owners to offer their services to the surrounding neighborhood.

      No more would homeless advocates have to travel by car across the City giving out tents from their GoFundMe operation.

      Instead, we can have one-stop service on Octavia and assign a lot to raise your tent! San Francisco does it right!

    5. Seriously? More park space? SF has a ridiculous amount of park space already. Half the parks I visit are completely deserted and therefore underutilized. And you have Patricia’s Green one block away, which offers a more space than these tiny lots anyway. No, housing is a much better use of space here, and the ground floor commercial will activate the street, making it more pleasant to walk down and make it feel safer. I’ve walked down that street at night – it’s not a dangerous neighborhood at all, but does feel a bit uncomfortable because nobody else is walking around.

  5. really needs to be open space, 18′ wide means about 16-17′ interiors, and total darkness for adjoining units.
    SF planning commission constantly blows

    1. “Total darkness for adjoining units,” except for any non-lot-line windows that those adjoining units have, which is standard for housing in this city.

    2. If you are really concerned about “total darkness” you should be venting about the SF building code’s allowance of interior bedroom lacking access to light and air.

  6. The neighbors in the adjoining properties will benefit from this building blocking traffic noise from Octavia Blvd, not be harmed by it. Further, it would not be pleasant park/open space for the same reason. New buildings will at least have double/triple paned windows, plus the folding screens. Units in 8 Octavia are amazingly quiet.

    This is just the kind of project we should be doing and which will of necessity happen as old disused parcels with something “wrong” with them are developed. In the hands of a great architect like this one, they will create real value not only for their residents but for the city as a whole. Octavia Boulevard is going to be a beautiful entry into the city from the freeway.

    1. I agree that this will be a great addition to the City which is why I’m anxious to see the it move forward and the promise fulfilled.

      However, all these buildings have implications far beyond Octavia Blvd San Francisco, CA. as inventive uses of urban “oddlots” for infill. Leaving them as “open space” would be hackneyed. The street itself is nicely developing into a lush green place.

      What they should have done was save Parcels O & P (the block bounded by Octavia/Fell/Laguna/Oak) as a formal park which would have become the centerpiece of a wider neighborhood in the vein of a modern Alamo Square or Alta Plaza.

      1. Not sure Octavia is a “lush” green space. The surface traffic for most of the time is horrendous going in both directions. Safety for pedestrians trying to cross is a constant problem with cars blocking the cross walk turning from Fell onto Octavia. Yes, it’s a great improvement having removed the clumsy concrete overhead freeway ramps, but we do pay a price at street level.

        Living along that street is not very quiet and the exhaust can be strong at times. The VERY BEST solution years ago would have been to put all the traffic below grade on Octavia with a continuous park above: at tremendous cost.

        Being an “odd parcel” does in itself mean it must be treated as ONLY development space for more housing and retail.

        1. The *real* problem with traffic on Octavia is that too damn many people drive it engaged in solo commutes.

        2. So much traffic, if only there were some sort of elevated freeway there, to keep all that traffic above the street level. That would be ideal.

      2. I believe you mean saving the parcels bounded by Fell, Hayes, and Patricia’s Green – the parcels that currently have Proxy. That whole open area has hundreds of people mingling, sitting, eating, drinking on any given nice day.

        That can still be done – the city has more than recouped the cost of building Octavia Blvd with the sale of the other parcels (which was the intent of selling off all those parcels). The 2 adjacent to Patricia’s Green could be kept by the City and used to expand Patricia’s Green – which is the only open space in the neighborhood, a neighborhood that will soon add 4 or 5 residential high rises a few blocks away, while adding no other open space.

        1. NO! I mean what I said. The block on which that terrible schlock has been built by Avalon with the remaining half to yet be developed with high density BMR.

          It’s where the on ramp and freeway touchdown had been with mature landscaping vegetation. Could have been a very special place which would have given a new identity to a whole new SF neighborhood.

          If you’re ever in Montreal, take the time to go out to the Outremont district and track down Parc Pratt. One great urban park which gives identity to an entire neighborhood. Like the site in Hayes Valley at the foot of Mint Hill, the natural topography is a downward slope.

          Imagine a whitewater brook (recycled water certainly) coursing from the corner of Fell/Laguna through a glade of overhanging trees to a collecting pond at Octavia/Oak.

          What a missed opportunity.

          1. Oh. Yeah, that would have been nice – but probably more than the City would have been willing to do. They needed to sell off all the parcels to get funds for building Octavia BLVD.

            BUT, now that it’s built, and now that the City has gotten more $$ than they expected for the parcels they’ve already sold off, they should hang on to the 2 that can still provide the best open space – expanding Patricia’s Green to the east.

            I contacted Supervisor Breed’s office about this possibility, but was just given Political Speak – “Supervisor Breed supports more affordable housing”. Yeah, we all do. So add a few more floors to all the towers at Oak/Van Ness/Market, and don’t build a couple of 4 or 5 story little buildings right up against Patricia’s Green – leave that space open. It’s already over crowded.

            [Editor’s Note: As we first reported last year, Hayes Valley Biergarten Lease Could Be Extended To 2021.]

          2. Parc Pratt is lovely. Almost bought a house across the street from it a decade or two back. The streets around it are not the near-freeways that Oak and Fell are.

  7. The buildings that are now there were never designed to be corner buildings, nor are their facades appropriate to face a boulevard. While the Envelope AD buildings may not be great architecture, they do propose an interesting solution to infill buildings for a constrained urban site. More importantly, they will make sense of their context and give this boulevard space a sense of completion.

    1. Thank you for so articulately stating my own thoughts as well; even aesthetically, these buildings will be an improvement over leaving them vacant.

      But the real contribution will be the street-level retail uses creating a true urban corridor enriching the neighborhood at the very entry touchdown to the City

  8. The apartments in these buildings will at most have 15 feet of usable space from front to back. They will be severely challenged functionally, and in anything other then a bubble market land parcels this size would not get built developed or rented or sold. Hurry up and Build because on projects like this the financing window will shut very quickly .

    1. You clearly have never lived in a studio. But have you ever been inside one? 15 feet? Severely challenged functionally? Seriously?

    2. Most rooms in standard Victorians and Edwardians that fill that neighborhood are 12-14 feet wide. 15 is not at all cramped.

  9. Before the freeway was built, the Victorian had three buildings between it and Octavia. You can see for yourself in the 1938 aerial photos.

  10. I agree, the bldgs should be built. I also agree, the bldgs are too high. Leaving them vacant only creates a trash-vacuum; building something w modern materials/methods buffers the other parcels. But the height just reinforces the damage done from building the freeway.

  11. It’s a beautiful building. Bring back the hookers who worked under the freeway. I remember when….. get over it!

    1. I love this picture. What we have now may not be perfect, but look how far we’ve come!

  12. how can anyone object in good faith to replacing this (name link) with the rendering above? seriously, people, what we have now fronting Octavia is blight and an overgrown green strip!

  13. better idea, would be make “o” shaped buildings in the same vein, and ring the green spaces at city-hall with these buildings as emergency temporary housing shelters for the homeless..with services below.

    we could also place them over at chrissy field… since its a large green field, perfect for bars of this type of housing aligned towards the bay…

    density requires new solutions, this is one of them…. but don’t forget to think about transit open space, and amenities, public libraries, pools, showers, and needed facilities….

      1. Believe it or not, our most incomprehensible commenter, was appointed by the Board of Supervisors to be on a community advisory committee.

  14. Given the housing shortage, anybody agitating against new housing has to find stronger arguments than those expressed here. We’re not going to build more by nitpicking on room sizes or view lines.

    1. There’s not a “housing shortage”. Suggest that to all the property owners who have CHOSEN to remove their rental properties from the market due to the outrageous tenants rights and laws as well as the draconian rent control procedures, resulting in approximately 25-30,000 units off the market.

      Get rid of rent control and see all those units back on the market rented as fast as they can.

      1. 25,000 – 35,000 units being held vacant because of rent control? No way. This kind of thing gets repeated here a lot with zero evidentiary support.

        Now if you meant the number is between 25 units SF-wide and 35,000 units SF-wide, that is possible — far closer to the 25 side and quite possibly not even that high.

      2. yeah, I posted the Census estimates of vacant housing in SF on SS a few months ago, but it may need reminding. The US Census estimates around 30-32k “vacant” housing units in SF. They break it down into categories. Here are the numbers from the 2010-2014 ACS average:

        31,686 Total:
        6,837 For rent
        1,814 Rented, not occupied
        1,171 For sale only
        1,424 Sold, not occupied
        7,474 For seasonal, recreational, or occasional use
        12,966 Other vacant

        BTW, if you own and reside in more than one home (Mitt Romney, John McCain,…), then the Census will count one as occupied and all the rest as vacant in either the “occasional use” or “Other vacant” category.

        Also, this is a vacancy rate of ~8%, which is slightly lower than the rate for California. CA and SF have nearly the same percentages of “For rent”, “Rented, not occupied”, and ” Sold, not occupied”. These just look like normal churn numbers.

        1. Thanks for this. I’ve been of the opinion that tenant rights are a strong contributor to fewer rentals on the market, partially because I personally have made that decision, and assumed many others have as well. But these numbers cast some doubt on that (specifically, SF percentages vs. CA at large), I will have to look more into these facts if I’m to continue supporting such an opinion.

          1. I think you will find that the bulk of units kept off the market as a result of the strict rent control provisions are primarily in 2-4 unit buildings. When a landlord lives in the building themselves, the incentives to leaving a unit vacant are much greater. At least that is how I’ve seen this played out with friends and neighbors.

    2. Seriously. It all basically comes down to, “Sure we have some of the most expensive housing in the entire world, and it’s painfully clear that’s primarily due to supply constraints, but I don’t think we should build any more because all these proposals go against my personal aesthetic taste, and because I personally don’t like it when things change.”

  15. There’s a bigger backstory here that this thread barely acknowledges: the development of these parcels was part of the original deal that allowed Caltrans and the City to finance and proceed with demolishing, rather then rebuilding (with a fatter, seismically-reinforced footprint) the double-decked freeway.

    The freeway itself forced demolition of many buildings in this pre-06 Victorian neighborhood, and the blight that typically impacts the immediate surroundings of an elevated freeway suppressed both property values here as well as the economic vibrancy of Hayes Valley.

    There’s no real debate that demolishing the freeway added value to the surviving Victorians, so in fairness, their owners can’t have cake and eat it too by blocking the very development that helped general the revenue to construct the Octavia Boulevard that restored daylight to their back yard, vitally to next-door Hayes Valley, and substantial equity to their investment.

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