Forest Hill Church

As proposed by Christian Church Homes, and much to the chagrin of neighbors, the Forest Hill Christian Church and adjacent school at 250 Laguna Honda Boulevard will be leveled and a five-story building will rise across the 1.6-acre site, with 149 units of senior housing, a 62-car garage and a new church/community center within its walls.

250 Laguna Honda Site Plan

While the Planning Department’s preliminary review of the plans, which was just completed, “supports using this large site that is within 900 feet of underground and bus stops for senior housing,” it also supports saving the Forest Hill Christian Church, “an exceptional, rare, and intact example of Expressionist architecture in San Francisco and a local monument of mid-century modernism west of Twin Peaks.”

As such, Planning’s preliminary review suggests relocating the church building on-site, with enough space left around the church “to allow it to be seen and appreciated.”

In addition, the Department is recommending the proposed development be redesigned so that it doesn’t form a “street wall” near the road and incorporates the wooded setting into its design, “perhaps incorporating a massing strategy more akin to pavilions rather than a slab along the street frontage, more like a campus.”

Also noted, the site is currently only zoned for development up to 40 feet in height versus 49 feet as proposed, which would require a legislative amendment to change. And a Senior Housing Special Use District (SUD) would have to be approved as the site is currently only zoned for a single-family home.

In other words, it’s back to the drawing board for Kava Massih Architects and Christian Church Homes.

44 thoughts on “City Supports Contentious Redevelopment of Church Site, but…”
  1. So the Devil’s in the details?

    Is everything in SF designed/proposed in violation of some or another ordinance, or does SS just highlight those that are? (Or maybe a contrarian development proposal is just the first step in requesting that such ordinances be modified)

    1. The majority of San Francisco is under-zoned for the kind of city that San Francisco is in the 21st century – namely, its now a city and not an overgrown suburb.

      This leads to it being extremely difficult to design new projects to current zoning, as current zoning generally renders projects infeasible – or at minimum, severely underutilizing the land, if built strictly to existing zoning.

      1. Oh puhleeze. San Francisco was NEVER an overgrown suburb.

        The fact is CCHomes should never have submitted such a horrendous design. The excuse that it was just a ‘massing’ diagram is just that, an excuse. There are plenty of Architects in SD that could design something beautiful whilst saving the church. This said, no matter how great the design, many NIMBY’s will never approve of this development.

  2. I live not all that far from here. Its a verdant stretch which, for just a minute or two as you drive the area, makes you forget you are in the center of the City. Most urban dwellers would appreciate that but SF is an animal unto itself.

    I can hear the refrain. This is a city and who needs verdant. Who needs trees or even a tiny bit of open space.

    Sad really. Forest Hill is a verdant neighborhood and the trees to be removed by this envisioned building are bad enough. The building is atrocious. Yeah, lets turn this stretch into Sunset east.

    Developers know they can get away with anything given the current City Hall regime.

    The good thing is that some PTB live in Forest Hill and I’d suspect, short a proposal that retains the character of this stretch of Laguna Honda, an 8 Washington could be in the works.

    1. Interesting, let’s maintain a verdant stretch for someone DRIVING through the area. That’s not what I think the concept of open space is.

    2. So you oppose senior housing that is walking distance to a Muni station. Why? So that senior housing doesn’t get built and seniors can’t afford to live in the city? Also, it’s being BUILT BY THE CHURCH – not a developer. You’re a NIMBY, pure and simple – people like you are ruining the diversity of this city by opposing all development, constricting supply, and driving up prices. Shameful.

        1. I didn’t realize those were the only two alternatives.

          In cities where people really want to help the elderly, they’re allowed, indeed encouraged, to live in close-in projects, with neighborhood shops and services, close to medical care, and with easy transit access to the rest of the city. (OK, that last bit might be just to get them to stop driving and running over younger people.)

  3. The ultra low density and pedestrian-hostile environment next to Forest Hill station is the shame of SF. No, I don’t personally live there (or on the west side for that matter), but we all pay for Muni, and we all bear the costs of more expensive housing and worse traffic because this area is being kept low density just to pamper a few rich, politically connected incumbent landowners in that neighborhood.

    I don’t mind keeping the church, but Planning should not only support the overall level of density proposed here, this density should be allowed by-right as well for any housing, senior or not, affordable or not, within a half mile of the Forest Hill station.

    1. With 62 parking spaces, I think we’re going to see worse traffic due to this project, regardless of the MUNI station.

      Those landowners paid a large premium to live in that neighborhood because it was low density, they could have bought an identical house in Parkside for much less. How would you like it if we suddenly blew out the density next door to where you are living? Or perhaps you harbor some fantasy that 150 senior units are going to make SF more “affordable”?

      1. They bought their house – they didn’t buy the whole neighborhood. I get that increased density is unpleasant for some. The wish to preserve low density should be heard and acknowledged, but it should not come before the greater good for those who live and work in the city. Form-based zoning with five and six story heights is a fair compromise for this area.

        To say the 62 parking spaces will contribute to traffic is to fall for the NIMBY fallacy that if infill development is stopped, the would-be residents — and their traffic impacts — just vanish into thin air. Nope. They either get displaced out of the Bay Area (which is a crummy way to manage traffic), or they find housing elsewhere in the region where transit and/or walkability are almost certainly worse — hence, more traffic. But I agree I’d like it better without the 62 parking spaces. Let’s make this a mixed-use neighborhood dense enough to have a grocery store in walking distance so the cars won’t be necessary.

        This is 150 homes on just one lot. A few more projects like this throughout this and similar neighborhoods, and yes, we’re absolutely making a difference toward fixing the housing shortage.

        1. You are dead wrong about the “greater good”. With 10,000 new SF residents annually, a few more projects like this will do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to fix the housing shortage. Do the math, it’s just a pipedream.

          1. Okay, I’ll do the math. 150 units at average 1.7 occupants per unit = 250 residents. 250/10,000 = 2.5%. 2.5% x “a few” = ~10%. Hmm, 10% seems much > than “ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.”

            Every journey begins with the first few steps. And I’m sure the 1000 residents of those few projects would greatly appreciate having their housing.

          2. In your scenario, you still haven’t even stopped the cost of housing from appreciating. And that assumes a boring straight line relationship between new resident demand and new unit supply, which doesn’t take into account demand from outside investors, higher salaries for existing residents, gentrification of certain areas, IPO cash, etc.

      2. Let’s say the 62 cars all leave in a 10 hour span. On average there will be one more car every 9.7 minutes.

        Or perhaps we should have church at all. As we know church evidently worsen traffic.

      3. Fantasy? By increasing the supply of senior housing, this will help to keep down the cost of senior housing. How in the world does constricting supply of something make it less expensive?

        1. In order to make something less expensive, you need the supply to exceed the demand. If you look at the demand from new residents plus other sources I listed, then you calculate the supply needed to exceed it, it ain’t gonna happen. A couple hundred units here and there will in theory slow the price appreciation, but to actually drive them down, you would need to build tens of thousands units asap and get ahead of the demand. The only thing that will realistically drive down SF home prices is a drop in demand driven by larger economic conditions.

          It’s like you people are in some sort of cult that is obsessed with building more housing because you dream that it will eventually drive prices down to some vague “affordable” threshold, but you’ve never stopped to really look at the numbers or think about what you’re saying, or what the negative effects of all that new housing might be, or who really benefits.

    2. With that rationale, you’d want to level pretty much everything west of Twin Peaks.

      This area was built in the early 20th century thanks to the Twin Peaks Tunnel opening up the area for development. I grant you this stretch was developed as a suburb-within-a-city with the streetcar taking people from home to work. Could the area use some density and height? Most definitely. But, keep in mind that density doesn’t always include height (and vv).

      This project is just another example of cramming a low-rise building into the streetscape. I’m not saying that this location needs a 20 story building, but the design could be better incorporated into the landscape and neighborhood. Otherwise, you could end up with something, albeit on a smaller scale, like the development on Brotherhood Way.

      1. I don’t want to level anything, just minimize changes to zoning to reasonably keep with the character of the area. There’s plenty of room to build huge around Van Ness or Mission Bay where there is regional transit. I wouldn’t be opposed to something here, just on a better scale. Maybe something like the townhouses that are across the street off Clarendon.

        1. This spot has better transit than Van Ness (which hasn’t even gotten BRT yet), and is roughly equal to Mission Bay. We’re talking about a site less than 15 minutes by rail from the cultural and employment center of the US’s fourth largest metropolitan area. In that context, five stories is about the minimum that can be considered appropriate. To plan this centrally located area as if it were Walnut Creek (where five stories might be considered “huge”) is irresponsible and harms the greater region.

          1. Again, you have some sort of twisted concept of the “greater good” because these 150 senior units are going to accomplish absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things, except contribute to crowding, and possibly become a blight on the area depending on the final design. I suspect you believe that they will make SF housing affordable to people who are currently priced out, but that’s beyond ludicrous.

  4. The design definitely needs to be improved, but the location for senior housing is perfect. Forest Hill Station gives residents of the complex a one-stop ride to the restaurants and neighborhood services of West Portal, and just a few stops in the other direction to shopping and cultural destinations downtown. The 44-line bus stops right outside with just a short ride to Golden Gate Park. Yes, a different approach to the massing and incorporation of open space needs to be achieved to make it more livable for the residents and less like a warehouse.

  5. There is a preschool there, Forest Hill Christian Church Pre-School, that has been there for 53 years and serves a vibrant and diverse community. For some reason the developers refused to put the preschool into the new plan, even though there are umpteen studies showing that putting the elderly and children together improves mental health for both. So I think this plan can’t even be considered without the preschool included.

    1. I hear pets are good for the elderly. I don’t think this plan should be considered without a veterinary clinic.

      1. Maybe a petting zoo! And an “urban farm” And a Navigation Center (15 minutes to the “services” they so deserve).

  6. Building a storage box for elderly people in one of the nice green areas of the city does not seem like a great idea. Better to tear down some old dilapidated buildings closer to the bay to build housing.

  7. I’m not sure people understand what senior housing is. It’s simply for people 55 and older. It seems like some people think when you turn 55 and go into a senior housing complex, you suddenly don’t drive, or need to walk through a park, or take Muni to go to stores or see a play, and you must be sent to the far reaches of the city into some industrial zone and housed in a box and never come out, because obviously once you are 55, you are on a ventilator or something. So odd.

    The planning commission wants to mitigate the street wall look. They are developing a site close to great public transportation for a population that uses public transportation and are generally good neighbor-like people. Not sure what the hullaballoo is all about. This is not a public park they are tearing down. It is a private church property and will remain a church, and older retired people can now enjoy the laguna views. Sorry if it ruins your commute views.

    The city is growing, and, yes, it’s getting more crowded. Just be honest and say you don’t want it more dense where you are, don’t say that it’s “better” for society overall that there not be more people near where you live.

    1. I think the issue is that you have a nice looking area that you want to place a big, ugly box on. It does not matter if it is senior apartments, luxury condos or BMR. Why develop a nice hillside when there are plenty of old buildings that need replacement – and I am not saying that the church is worth preserving, the Planning Department did. I get that there are property rights for the owners of this lot, but as a community it is a pity.

  8. Moderately dense development with a design sensitive to the natural beauty of this extraordinary urban corridor seems very feasible and an overall plus. High on the city’s list should be the rehabilitation of Laguna Honda (the Lake), which appears on the earliest maps of the area. The concrete lining killed it as wildlife habitat, and it is unused as an active reservoir. BTW, the hill behind is one of the few pristine native hillsides in the City.

  9. edited: Really, you call that moderate?? What, compared to 10 stories high? You would think they’d leave at least a couple of trees. They build that ‘as proposed’ and that corridor will be forever changed in a dramatic, adverse way. I don’t call that moderate.

  10. ITA. This hillside is a natural treasure in a city with a paucity of such. Its disconcerting the architects came forward with such a banal building.

    They need to compliment the site as much as possible and to do that they likely need to reduce the size (unit-wise) of this project.

    trees are a big issue. For every tree removed at least one large, somewhat mature tree needs to be placed on the hillside.

    There is a lot of opposition to this not just in Forest Hill but in the larger area. Miraloma Park and such. If City Hall and the Planning Commission fail to seriously address neighborhood concerns this is ripe for an initiative challenge. And the folks in this area have the money to mount one.

  11. This reminds me in a way of the park blocks in downtown Portland and their up and down history and how many were saved. Now a treasure in the middle of downtown Portland. There are 9, 10, 11 park blocks. At one time there were more (1800s) How that city in the 1800s and 1900s saved the blocks as pristine open space is a story unto itself.

    Many blocks were lost too as the city refused to purchase them as the money then was going to purchasing what is now Washington Park. Incredible spot BTW.

    But an effort was made and what that city has today park-wise downtown is incredible.

    Not the same thing, but you would think SF would not just try to preserve the integrity of this pristine hillside by demanding an absolute architectural gem which compliments the location but maybe even go further and purchase the land? Keep it open and natural in perpetuity as the park blocks are.

    Its not like SF does not get enough tax money – that is a whole other issue. The waste of taxpayer money in this city. Think central subway and the street in front of your home which, if it is like in my area, needs repairs and upkeep.

  12. The city has dropped support for the proposed Forest Hill senior project, and it will not be built: “It said the cost of stabilizing the hillside, not the resistance [from concerned neighbors], was the primary factor in its decision.”

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