1600 Jackson Street Site

Despite having been redesigned to incorporate eight new apartments into their plans, the proposed redevelopment of the shuttered Lombardi Sports building at 1600 Jackson Street, at the corner of Polk, into San Francisco’s first Whole Foods Market 365 is slated to be formally disapproved this week.

From the Planning Department’s revised recommendation for the project, which it had previously supported, and the Planning Commission’s draft motion which it has already noticed its intent to adopt:

“The Department finds that the Project is, on balance, inconsistent with the Objectives and Policies of the General Plan. Although the project would add a daily needs-serving retail use (grocery store) at the subject property, the Project only proposes the addition of eight dwelling units and does not maximize the allowable residential density of the subject property in a time when San Francisco is facing a severe housing shortage.

Moreover, the introduction of a Formula Retail Use (d.b.a. “365 by Whole Foods”) with the Polk Street NCD may result in a negative impact on existing retailers within the vicinity, reducing business for existing, non-Formula Retail merchants selling, comparable goods and services.

The Department does not find the project to be necessary, desirable, and compatible with the surrounding neighborhood, and finds that it may be potentially detrimental to persons or adjacent properties in the vicinity.”

As we first reported back in 2014 when Lombardi Sports was shuttered, the corner site is zoned for development up to 65 feet in height.

And while the Department has received over 200 letters in support of the project from residents in the neighborhood, it has also tallied 76 letters of opposition, including from the Cathedral Hill Neighbors Association; Chinatown Community Development Center; Lower Polk Neighbors, Middle Polk Neighborhood Association; North Beach Business Association; Pacific Avenue Neighborhood Association; San Francisco Council of District Merchants Associations; Sierra Club; Telegraph Hill Dwellers; and the Van Ness Corridor Neighborhoods Council.

44 thoughts on “Planning Positioned to Disapprove Whole Foods Redevelopment”
  1. I can say with utmost certainty that the same groups and neighbors that lined up in opposition to this Whole Foods proposal will be the same ones to oppose any new housing on this site. Funny, I didn’t know Cathedral Hill, Telegraph Hill and North Beach extended into Polk. This SF native learns something new everyday!

    1. Exactly! Two quick examples. Some of the posters on this site who are most adamant that Central SOMA be dropped completely because there is not enough housing are also the same ones who demand every residential project be eliminated or downsized. You also have THD who fought tooth and nail over 8 Washington because it should be affordable housing, and then fought viciously against 88 Broadway (think I have the address right) which WAS affordable housing.

      I have absolutely no problem with neighborhood feedback in general. However far more often than not, at least in SF, what the neighbors push for is just a temporary argument in order to block anything new, and if the project was exactly what they say should go there, they’d pick a different argument.

    2. I don’t know why, but people in [San Francisco and Silicon] Valley have this notion that housing is an investment. They are all going to learn the hard way that it is not — if they already haven’t.

          1. Asset prices go up in relation to monetary value of exchange. Which means the buyer has lost or has weaker spending power. This kind of asset valuation increase can be sustained as long as you can find new buyers willing to prop up the prices. As prices peak the number of buyers with higher spending power also decreases — in an inflationary economy.

            You know what happened to Madoff right? We cannot forever grow regardless however many people wish for it.

    3. Didn’t these same people block the building of the new North Beach Library and then oust Julie Christenson because she supported it?

  2. Utter nonsense. The staff planners should be taken out, quartered and hung along the streets bounding the project site. Honestly, I should have known the outcome as most of these staff are UCB Department of City and Regional Planning graduates!

      1. I think the rep for CED – architecture, at least, CRP I’m, less familiar with – is that they value the ethereal over the practical. Yeah: Berkeley as out-of-touch…who’d believe it ??

  3. The proposal looks like it belongs in the suburbs rather than on Polk. However, what’s the reasoning for not building up to full 65 feet? And where are they stuffing those 8 units in the above rendering?

    1. The reasoning is that they want to reuse, not replace. And you know planning would force them to keep the silly facade if they did.

    2. The building cannot support extra floors. If they tear down the building and build a new one, the current zoning only allows 4,000 square feet of retail, enough for a large liquor store, not a full-scale grocery store. If they want to build a new building that contains the same amount of retail space, they would need to either get a “spot zoning,” which even if it were approved, would face years of legal challenges, or convince the city to rezone the whole neighborhood—good luck with that! The building’s garage is still operating and making money, and I predict the rest of the building will sit boarded up for the next 10-15 years, until there is a complete changeover in SF government, allowing the developer to try again

  4. it would make parking into an even bigger nightmare than it already is. they should at least put apartments on top like they did on the Ocean Ave location near CCSF

    1. The building has an existing underground parking lot. And as the ‘Parking’ sign is visible in the render (far right-hand side), it is presumably staying.

    2. I live in these apartments. The WF underground parking under my building. Resident parking under the second building. There is one entry/exit for residential on Brighton and the entry to WF is also on Brighton. The traffic light coordination on Ocean between Lee and Plymouth is horrible with cars often blocking the intersection at Brighton. Also, cars are usually backed up waiting to get into WF which prevents residents from accessing their garage since the one lane between the buildings is shared.

      1. Stores with parking lots should not be allowed to let cars back up onto the street. There are tools to manage that, and the city should mandate that they use them, or face penalties, if it’s a regular occurrence.

    3. Why would anyone in this neighborhood have a car? Lots of transit, and if Muni is acting up, you can walk. Given how are planet is rapidly going teets up, best to not drive anyway.

  5. The 8 unit proposal, or any similar under build proposal, should be rejected. Whole food should just keep the same building. 20 years later, either Whole food to fold, or Amazon figure out the real estate has a lot of value. Then the building can be torn down and build to proper scale. Building 8 residential unit today make future development nearly impossible.

    1. The plan was to keep the building, as you’re proposing. With a pretty big remodel, obviously (including putting in some upstairs apartments), but you can see in the rendering that the building is the same.

      1. I mean reuse the building as a retail without the residential. Once people are living in it, it is much hard to develop in the future. It is not worth it to have 8 small unit today if it preclude the site to be used to full potential.

    2. Yes, let’s wait 20 years to address an existing housing crisis and stick the neighborhood with a boarded up eye sore next to a parking garage for two decades. Gee, you should run for the Board of Supervisors now that you have the whole lame-brain idea thing nailed down—you will be a natural.

      1. No need to be snarky. Development is a long game. SF will be building this year, next year, the year after next, and 20 years later and on. Give the choice of building 8 unit this year and no more, versus perhaps building 50 unit in 20 years, I think it is wiser to wait for the right time.

  6. And enough with the formula retail restriction garbage that the city seems to enforce ad hoc. Amazing that there’s a Walgreens every other block, Starbucks, etc.

    1. I am on board with the formula retail restrictions. Without them, most of San Francisco’s commercial districts would have nothing beyond pharmacies, cell phone stores, banks, chain coffee shops, or urgent care facilities. Just like Midtown Manhattan these days. Boring nowheresville. But I guess people from the suburbs like such homogeneity.

      1. I would be on board if the city wasn’t so wishy washy by allowing one chain store in and banning another. Hate to break it to you, but folks in the city also like their homogeneity. Otherwise, you’d see more mom and pop coffee shops instead of Starbucks. It’s not just for the burbs any more.

        I lived in NYC and saw the infiltration of the chain restaurants and other formula retail (other than the ubiquitous Duane Reade on every block). As the condo buildings rise on top of former low rise brick buildings from the early 1900s the only folks who can afford the new commercial rents are the chain stores…and even they have problems.

  7. Figures…the Planning Department was for the Project before they were against it — so much for the disinterested/neutral application of the polices of the General Plan. Once the majority of the Commissioners expressed reservations — albeit conflicted — regarding the proposal, the Planning Dept did an abrupt about face and conveniently reversed their “professional” analysis. Politics through and through.

    What the Project Sponsor should do is revise the existing proposal one last time, and utilize the State Density Bonus Law (SDBL).

    Accordingly, all they have to do is provide a Code-compliant “Base Project” of 9 dwelling units (at least 40% 2-Bedroom per Polk NCD), make one of them a BMR Unit (@50% AMI; 11% x 9 units = 1 BMR Unit req’d) — which would allow a “Bonus” of 35% (i.e., 4 add’l Units), thus creating a “Bonus Project” of 13 total Dwelling Units (again, at least 40% 2-Bedroom). (Additionally, this approach will have the added benefit of slightly improving the pro forma.)

    Once the project sponsor invokes the SDBL, the Planning Commission will be compelled to approve the project since State law overrides Local shenanigans.

    Use the SDBL and put this crap to rest!

    1. Does that apply to retail, though? Maybe the city would be required to approve the housing, but could still reject the retail, which would render it pointless.

      1. They don’t want to tear down the existing building. The issue is not the housing. If they tear down the building, then they are restricted to a small retail space that would be too small even for a small grocery store.

      2. The retail size is an existing (grandfathered in) use. The only thing requiring a CU would be for the proposed Whole Foods since its “formula retail”.

    2. The Department recommended supporting the project to the Planning Commission. The Commission rejected the Department’s recommendation. The Department prepares findings for the Commission to adopt supporting the Commission’s decision. So, yes, the Department did what the decision makers told them to do. Not politics, not a reversal of of their “professional” opinion because the winds changed, but the staff doing what the Commission told them to do.

      1. The General Plan is supposed to be objective — i.e., either a project is in compliance or it is not.

        Accordingly, one shouldn’t be able to declare a project is in compliance with the General Plan one week, then turn around the following week because the politicians (i.e., the Commissioners) tell you to do so and declare that it is not in compliance with the General Plan.

        I would hope that most people would appreciate why that kind of nonsense makes people justifiably cynical and, therefore, distrustful of government.

        It’s a form of corruption.

  8. Seems like Planning is telling the property owner “You cannot use your building any more for the purpose for which it was entitled. Tear it down and build a tall residential building.” That seems pretty wrong to me, maybe even unconstitutional.

    That has been a retail building for decades, right? Why do they even need new entitlements to use the building for retail, without adding any units if that’s what it takes?

  9. Thank God, this would have been a nightmare. Just think of all the cars queued up to getting into that garage 24/7 honking, etc.

    Whole Foods already has a store a few minutes away on CA/Franklin.

    Good call IMO

  10. It will become Amazon’s first large scale cashier-free test store once they’ve nailed down the bugs in the smaller stores. Remove the check out lanes and then this space makes sense without needing change approval.

    1. What I’ve read indicates the cashier-free technology is aimed at Amazon Go stores, not 365 by Whole Foods. From earlier today, Amazon experimenting with cashierless technology at bigger stores, second to final ‘graph:

      It is unclear whether Amazon intends to use the technology for Whole Foods, although that is the most likely application if executives can make it work, according to the people. Amazon has previously said it has no plans to add the technology to Whole Foods. An Amazon spokeswoman said the company doesn’t comment on rumors and speculation. Whole Foods declined to comment.

      Emphasis mine. Of course, they could always say later that the 365 stores are different from the regular format WF stores where the cashiers are part of the unique shopping experience. Still, it will be interesting to see how eliminating cashiers will increase profitability for the 365 stores if it happens. I would say, not having familiarized myself with Whole Foods financials, that it’ll be marginal in the short term.

  11. Whole Foods hosted their very first pre-app meeting in December ’15 to introduce their intentions for the Lombardi’s site. In attendance, along with members of the neighborhood and nearby merchants were newly elected D3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin and Planning Commisioners Rodney Fong and Kathrin Moore. When do Planning Commissioners attend a pre-app meeting? Both should have recused themselves from the CU Hearing.

    BTW, Peskin introduced his formula retail ban for Polk and Larkin a few weeks later.

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