As we first reported last year, big plans to demolish the façade of the burned-out Verdi Building at 659 Union Street, between Columbus and Powell, and redevelop the site in the heart of North Beach have been drawn.

And as we revealed, the project team is positioning to secure the approval of a Special Use District for the site, extending to the adjacent parking garage parcel at 1636 Powell Street and enabling the development of a 98-unit residential building rising up to 85 feet in height, with a boutique 14-room hotel and rooftop terrace/restaurant atop the development and a row of new ground floor restaurant and retail space below.

San Francisco’s Planning Department has now completed its preliminary review of the proposed plans, balking at the compatibility of the project in terms of its design but supporting the additional hotel massing and height in general, provided the setback from Powell Street is increased and its visual impact is (further) reduced.

But then there’s the issue of shadows.

While the development as proposed was designed “to minimize [its] visual impact” and projected shadows on Washington Square, Washington Square has a designated zero tolerance (i.e., 0% Absolute Cumulative Limit) for new shadows to be cast upon the park by way of San Francisco’s Sunlight Ordinance (a.k.a. Prop K).

And as confirmed by the preliminary shadow fan prepared by Planning, the project is likely to cast new shadows on Washington Square Park as proposed.

As such, if the proposed project can’t be redesigned to eliminate any new shadowing of Washington Square Park, the project team will need to lobby for the cumulative shadow limit for the high profile park to be lifted (in addition to a rezoning and granting of a Special Use District for the site from San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors).

And with respect to the project team’s alternative plans for a bulkier Density Bonus project to be built on half the site should the requested Special Use District be denied, it’s back to the drawing board as the alternative project wouldn’t qualify for any waivers as threatened envisioned.

Comments from Plugged-In Readers

  1. Posted by Sutro_Tower

    I seem to remember concerns of shadows being cast on Wille “Woo Woo” Wong playground by the proposed Hines development on Parcel F. It too has a “zero tolerance” policy on new shadows but those were swept aside after the developer ponied up more money.

  2. Posted by Martin

    Is that shadow on the map coming only from the addition on top?

    • Posted by SocketSite

      Planning’s “fan” represents the potential, non-exclusive, shadow for a generic building mass of a specified height on a project site and is intended to flag the need for a more detailed, design specific, study and quantification of the net-new shadows a project would cast.

  3. Posted by not sure why this is all caps

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Prop K is insane. Shadows are good! Skin cancer is bad! City policy should be to work toward 50% average daily shadow on all parks.

    • Posted by ivan ho

      I propose we do a city wide survey of trees to better determine which we need to cut down to reduce shadows in parks.

    • Posted by SFRealist

      Agree! It’s never actually cold here anyway. I prefer to avoid skin cancer. It’s time to end Prop K.

      Of course, that will never happen, but we can dream.

    • Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

      There are plenty of ways to protect against the risks of solar UV: sunscreen, shirt sleeves, a nice sombrero. One of my techniques is to just be cognizant of staying out in the sun too long: walk on the shady side of the street. When stopping to picnic, read, or snooze, pick a shady spot.

      It doesn’t work the other way though. Once the sun is gone it is gone, you can’t make the shadows go away. But you can shade yourself from the sun.

      • Posted by Brisket

        Exactly, the idea that we should shade the entire city to avoid skin cancer is tinfoil hat logic.

        • Posted by SFRealist

          Claiming that anyone wants to shade the entire city is an excellent example of tinfoil hat logic.

          This is a building which would cast a shadow. Sometimes that shadow would fall on a park. Sometimes it would not.

  4. Posted by Karl

    Attempting to pursue an SUD — especially in a District where the Supervisor (i.e., Peskin) is notoriously anti-housing/anti-development — is an extraordinarily perplexing approach.

    The project sponsor should redesign the project to be 100% in compliance with the State Density Bonus Law and then if the City balks about any potential Prop K shadows, challenge their determination/opposition on the basis that “Prop K” is a “development standard” just like any other “development standard” (e.g. height, rear yard, open space, etc.)

    The SUD approach is too fraught with political risk and expense and is a gift to your opponents.

    Not a wise way to go.

    • Posted by density

      What would the project need to change to comply with the State Density Bonus Law?

      • Posted by density

        Nevermind…I see that the rendering for the Density Bonus project is linked in the article. My bad!

        • Posted by SocketSite

          But as referenced above, based on Planning’s preliminary review of the alternative Density Bonus project, said plans would “not qualify for a [Density Bonus] waiver because…a substantial portion of the subject property’s developable area [i.e., the parking garage portion] is not utilized” as envisioned.

      • Posted by Joe

        You can demonize all you want, but the real reason that thing is dead in the water is that the people don’t want this oversized monstrosity.

        BTW, a boutique hotel does nothing to increase housing.

        • Posted by Anonymous

          Maybe don’t speak for the general population. This is a completely reasonable scale and should be built.

          • Posted by emanon

            Seriously, who cares what it looks like. When was the last time you saw someone on a sidewalk look up from their cell phone-pacifiers and actually pay attention to the urban landscape they were moving through?

          • Posted by Martin

            Yea, but hotel guests will support the local retail, so it’s important in a different way.

    • Posted by SFRealist

      Never gonna happen with Peskin in office. They’re better off waiting for his term to be done.

      • Posted by JackBaker

        Over Aaron’s dead body and a slew of lawsuits from THD…it will be in its current state for years.

        • Posted by Joe

          I bet you couldn’t name a single lawsuit filled by THD within the past 15 years.

  5. Posted by JB10

    Was the cause of the fire determined? The extension is not integrated into the existing building.

  6. Posted by tipster

    I’m surprised they didn’t just propose to cut down all the trees in the park to negate the additional shadows from the building addition.

    I mean, if you’re going to add a full floor, AND stack a double-wide on top of half a building, drowning a park in shadows in the process, and try to pretend it’s an improvement, why not just go the rest of the way into absurdity?

    The owner already has a subsidized improvement to the property by way of a view of a city funded park they will no doubt tout as an amenity to their tenants, did they really need to go all the way and try to ruin for the public the very amenity they were handed by the same public.

    But wait, it’s not enough to merely cast shadows on the park they get to enjoy at the public’s expense, they also need to ruin the view FROM the park by way of an unattractive addition. Maybe they should come back with a rooftop sewage treatment plant and sawmill, so that they can find more senses to offend.

  7. Posted by C J Patterson

    Yes, I absolutely Adore Washington Park. Everybody does. It’s the best park in the city: you have kids and dogs and tourists and everybody lying about on the grass and walking and mixing and you feel safe because it’s not just homeless people or alcoholics or drug addicts. There may be a few but you don’t notice them & they can enjoy the sun and greenery too!

    So, no, I don’t think we should have shadows thrown onto the park. San Francisco is cold enough. I used to always walk to the park to get some sun. Everybody does: just lie down and sunbathe.

    So no to that project, I don’t want to look at something ugly when I do sit up and and look in that direction. They should put up something beautiful and very Italian with Terraces and plants trailing off the building walls and so forth. Anyway, that’s what I think.

    • Posted by jimbo

      speaking for the rest of the city, washington park is not even in the top 10 parks in the city, most people in SF don’t go to north beach because its mostly tourists (just behind fisherman’s wharf in most avoid neighborhoods for locals). SF is not cold. it is a very warm city and as the father of 2 young children who is constantly loading them with sunscreen, i would very much prefer more shadows.

      • Posted by scurvy

        Very warm city jimbo? You next to a burning trash fire in the TL? It’s 50-63 here year round when not in the sun.

        I live in Russian Hill (flip side from NB) and WSP yeah it’s definitely a top 10 park. Leave the Mission from time to time bro.

        • Posted by jimbo

          i live in the richmond equidistant from the presidio and GGP. the average high here is 64 degrees year round and its sunny 300 days per year.

          • Posted by scurvy

            Yeah, 64 degrees isn’t “very warm” unless you’re from Canada.

          • Posted by SFRealist

            Nor is 64 degrees “cold” unless you’re from Singapore.

            It’s more reasonable to say that San Francisco is neither hot nor cold.

  8. Posted by Stop and think for a second

    A “shadow fan” could be one of the most misleading diagrams available…the extremes are in the winter w/ the lowest sun angle, early and late in the day, for short periods of time. Not likely to have any real impact on experience in the park. A graduated diagram would be a much more useful and fair evaluation tool.

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