330 Townsend Street Site

The project team behind a proposed 300-foot-tall tower to rise at 330 Townsend Street recently shifted gears and architects, abandoning their original plans for a modern office or mixed-use development in favor of a 31-story residential building designed by Solomon Cordwell Buenz (SCB), with 374 condos over 11,500 square feet of ground-floor restaurant space and an underground garage for 291 cars.

330 Townsend Rendering 2016

While the 330 Townsend Street site, which is across from the current Caltrain terminus in the city and a block away from a future Central Subway stop, is currently only zoned for development up to 85 feet in height, the city’s revised Central SoMa Plan included a coveted up-zoning of the site to 300 feet in height.

But there’s a big problem or two and in more ways than one.

The 330 Townsend Street site measures 30,721 square feet. And per the aforementioned Central SoMa Plan: “Parcels larger than 30,000 square feet south of Harrison Street require that two-thirds of new development below 160 feet in height be nonresidential.” As such, the residential tower as proposed would not be allowed.  But there is a solution.

From Planning’s preliminary review of the plans which was just sent to the CIM Group:

“If the project sponsor were to reduce the project site area below 30,000 [square feet], then the proposed residential development would be allowable. Such a lot area reduction could be accomplished by splitting the one existing parcel into two parcels. In this scenario, the newly created adjacent parcel could not be developed as part of the proposed project, including being situated above the proposed project’s below-grade parking.”

In addition:

“In order for this new parcel to be used as open space and satisfy the Planning Code’s exposure requirements for the proposed residential units, the new parcel would either need to become a public right-of-way or dedicated to the City in perpetuity as an easement. The adjacent new parcel would also not count towards the proposed project’s rear yard requirement. Additionally, the bulk controls within the Central SoMa Plan would require that the building massing be set back 15’ from any property line beginning at a height of 85’.”

And while the project’s proposed mid-block paseo was intended as a means by which to reduce the lot size below the 30,000-square-foot threshold, the building’s proposed garage extends below the width and length of the paseo and the tower above isn’t set back above 85 feet.

The project team could, of course, revert to an all-office tower proposal or a mixed-use project that meets the two-thirds requirement above.

That being said, the Planning Department also notes, it “would like to see a more innovative and expressive design for the project overall that reflects the prominence that this building will have in the neighborhood and on the skyline.” For as the Central SoMa Plan is anticipated to lead to the development of a number of distinctive high-rises, “this project should be a key contributor to the neighborhood’s identity.” And in the words of Planning to the project team, “the design as proposed does not do this.”

We’ll keep you posted and plugged-in as the plans evolve.

44 thoughts on “Big Problems for Proposed 300-Foot Tower Across from Caltrain”
  1. Can someone explain why the city wants to encourage non-residential construction in the midst of a serious residential affordability crisis?

    1. They don’t? Plus the residential affordability crises isn’t going to be solved by a high rise condo complex arriving in 2-3 years.

      1. If we have this attitude we will never solve the housing affordability crisis. Yes you can’t build housing overnight but that’s not a reason to do it. Otherwise in 2-3 years you’ll have ever-more $$$ chasing the same limited pool of housing.

  2. I assume the reason for dropping the office component was the M backlog. Aren’t about 8 or 9 years worth of M allocation proposed? Meaning it could be years before an all office project could get the go-ahead.

    Residential is more important anyway and, per the code, would result in additional and sorely needed open space. Above and beyond the required rear yard.

  3. So Planning’s reason for blocking new housing units is 721 square feet out of 30,000. Good job, Planning.

    1. That’s one decent-sized 1-bedroom’s worth of lot size. Good thing we’re being protected from the horrors of 30 extra 1-bedroom apartments!

  4. “would like to see a more innovative and expressive design for the project overall that reflects the prominence that this building will have in the neighborhood and on the skyline”

    THANK YOU. The 2nd tallest tower in Central SoMa shouldn’t be a bland glass box.

    1. I get feeling that “character of the city” is code for the hundred-plus-year-old seismically unsafe fire hazards composing the bulk of the city’s current building stock. I very much prefer this over what is currently standing in the majority of the city — it’s not a deathtrap during a fire or earthquake.

      1. Sorry but I have little patience for apologists of bad architects. The developer will make tens of millions off of this project. It’s one of the tallest plots in an area that’s globally significant.

        The developer should bring in a starchitect and build something charismatic that helps make the area more iconic rather than a drab glass box. There are dozens of examples of beautiful, mid-rise architecture around the world. Why not bring it here? Just so the “BUILD BUILD BUILD AT ALL COST” people get their way?

        1. “It’s one of the tallest plots in an area that’s globally significant.”

          What? How is a random lot across from the Caltrain yard “globally significant”? That’s ludicrous.

          1. SoMa is a well known across the world as a tech hub. It’s the first area people cross when they enter San Francisco from SFO.

            Why is this even controversial? Do you want an ugly tower to go up when the developer can easily do a better design?? A 300 ft tower in that area will be very prominent and visible in all of southern Sf.

          2. No one knows what SoMa looks like, even if they’ve (possibly) heard of it as a tech hub.

          3. And the reason that this is “controversial” is that many of us care more about housing people than some ridiculous notion of whether a random building across from a train yard is pretty enough.

          4. Wow no wonder the SFBARF folks are so unpopular. “We want to ruin your neighborhood cuz housing!” And stop belittling it by saying it’s ‘across the train tracks’. That’s actually a neighborhood for thousands of people. The tower will be very visible and prominent for everyone who lives in SoMa, Mission Bay, Potrero Hill, South Beach.

          5. There’s a train yard literally across the street, not sure why that’s “belittling” it?

            I’m just not one wowed by pretty buildings I guess, but I do care about people having a place to live. Apologies for wanting to “ruin” your neighborhood by allowing more people to have a roof over their heads.

            The selfishness in SF is really getting to me.

          6. There are studies that show that ugly buildings have bad psychological impacts on people. Go ahead and google it, here’s one source.

            And this building is not just a ‘random building across from a train yard’. It will be the one of the tallest buildings in Central SoMa and will have a huge impact on the aesthetics of the neighborhood in the future. By your logic, we shouldn’t have nice architecture to begin with and those who demand it are just selfish. You know, Soviet russia built lots of monotonous looking dorm buildings. You would have loved living there.

  5. If they can’t build all residential and they can’t build office, the bottom 110 feet of the building could be PDR (2/3 of the bottom 160 feet) with the top 190 feet being residential.

        1. Frontage is about 125′. So yes, add a 6′ front setback as a separate parcel. Doesn’t seem like planning wants to stop this per se, just that they enforce rules.

          1. It’d be a nice touch and they could incorporate planters and some street art. Maybe a water feature.

            Anything to reduce, even a small amount, the paucity of street level open space downtown.

          2. That’s what I was thinking. Double row of trees, to break things up and provide a bit of green.

            I don’t know if that’s possible, but it would seem to make sense.

  6. 721 SF? Can they not just grant an exception or something. It seems so petty. SF is such a bureaucratic nightmare.

    1. They don’t need to grant an exception, the plan hasn’t passed yet. They could just change the plan to read 31,000 sq ft and it probably wouldn’t affect anyone else. The fact that they wanted to choose a round number like 30,000 sq ft is just as arbitrary anyway.

  7. Please build around 30 of those towers along Townsend. This area is way under developed and with the new muni station, this area is builders heaven.

    1. It’s a simple, unimaginative, industrial looking brick building of some age – I do not think that it is beautiful, but I guess that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If anybody wanted to build it today they would have a hard time getting permits.

      1. Its good that that was not the attitude taken towards The Pearl in the 90s or the Park blocks a century earlier. The latter is not directly comparable, but the approach taken with taken with the blocks comes out of a similar sensibility.

          1. Generally I’m pro development. I could care less if they built 300-500-600 ft in this area. But I don’t understand your stance against having high standards for development.

            There are only a handfull of mid-rise and high rise lots left in this city. Why would you be ok with ruining the skyline with architectural boilerplate as opposed to making developers help beautify it?

            They’re going to make tens of millions of dollars regardless. They might as well build something that would help make the area better as opposed to turning into the next Wilshire boulevard.

          2. @ donjuan – I agree that the proposed design is bland and could use a lot of improvement.
            This does not change my opinion that the existing building is bland and there is no point in preserving it; the faults of the proposed building does not make the existing building worth keeping.

          3. No, and I never said that at all.

            The Pearl is a lot better than what we have in SOMA and we should be learning from Portland and not dissing it. Architectural wonders – I’d settle for architectural norms. Not the junk SF is getting. IMO.

            I’m in Portland 5/6/7 times a year. I walk the Pearl every time I’m there and there is no comparison. Is it perfect? No, I never said that, but I lament what Portland has done with just average old buildings and what SF has not.

            So you are OK with building another bland box here? O on top of all the other bland boxes? One more won’t make a difference – right?

            All the time many other cities are moving on in positive ways, architecture. green/open space in their downtowns.

            And SF is the city that knows how – yeah right.
            Sad thing is, it has – just look at the SF skyline. Arguably one of the most banal, uninspiring in the country. And that is saying a lot.

          4. @ Dave – you’re right, I shouldn’t diss Portland, it is very nice. We should take note when new buildings or areas are designed – my point was that the existing building does not contribute anything and it will not be missed.

          5. Thank you anon. IMO the building to the left of this should have been up-zoned to 300 feet. Not this building or the gem to its right. Maybe up-zone this particular site to 5/6 stories. Encouraging a retention of the intimate front while building up behind it?

            The Central SOMA plan s not, IMO, a plan at all. No deference to context. That now zoned 20 story site near Folsom and Second will totally shadow an adjacent park. If built.

            I’m not a city planner and don’t pretend to play one, but really, how do the SF planning PTB continually miss this stuff?

    2. The existing building is a NothingBox with a mildly interesting facade. The box itself is completely unremarkable. The facade might be worth saving but SOMA has many more interesting facades to champion.

  8. I wish they would keep the brick facade for the first level and leave it as commercial/retail space. And then do something classical/historical looking for at least the first four floors, before doing a more modern skyscraper.

  9. DTX connection prior to more development, otherwise no go. Why approve more towers, when we cannot transport the ones we approved already based on the DTX extension being completed.

    Back to the basics folks, solve the transit equation, plan for schools, parks, amenities, like libraries, pools, and playgrounds, and actual people, not just real estate living ATM machines.

    Tower looks like any other being approved, monotonous, glass, and unrealistic towards what climate change is doing…

        1. we have the highest per capita city budget in the country and the highest per capita rate of homelessness. Connection? local govt sucks

          1. what is the per capita budget? does it include the water bill for 2.6 million people? does it include the budget for SFO? does it include costs for regional services administrated by SF county? whadda think?

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