A (Less Than) Significant Finding for Proposed Tower to RiseMay 5, 2021
While a detailed analysis of the proposed tower to rise up to 200 feet in height on the site of San Francisco’s aging Fire Station 13, as newly rendered by SOM below, on the southeast corner of Sansome and Washington Streets, has determined that the development would cast some net new shadow on Maritime Plaza, Sue Bierman Park and the nearby Transamerica Redwood Park, the projected new shadow on the Sue Bierman and Transamerica Redwood Parks “would likely not be noticeable.”
And while the tower’s projected shadow would reach Maritime Plaza for a few hours a day on up to 232 days per year, and “could be noticeable to park users that are particularly sensitive to the availability of sunlight,” “it was observed that the majority of [Maritime Plaza] users engage in transitory activities that are less sensitive to the availability of sunlight.”
And as such, Planning has determined that the net new shadow from the tower “would not substantially affect the use and enjoyment of [Maritime Plaza]” and that the project would have a “less-than-significant impact” on any of the surrounding open spaces under the jurisdiction of the Recreation and Park Department, impacts that are governed by San Francisco’s Sunlight Ordinance (a.k.a. Prop K).
With that in mind, the project has just been granted a Preliminary Mitigated Negative Declaration (PMND), a finding that establishes that that the project “would not have a significant effect on the environment as proposed,” which is a good thing if you’re the developer.
And if the project is approved, funded and survives any neighborhood challenges, the tentative timeline for the development now calls for breaking ground at the end of this year.
We’ll keep you posted and plugged-in.
Comments from Plugged-In Readers
Finally something that isn’t hideous from SOM…
And some good height for such a prime area of town. Bummed they removed any housing from the tower.
“While originally envisioned to yield a mix of 35 high-end condos over a 200-room Equinox hotel, a 36,000-square-foot athletic club, and a new fire station for the City, the condo component has been dropped from Related’s plans and replaced with 40,000 square feet of new office space across the tower’s 6th, 7th and 8th floors, with the hotel above and the aforementioned gym below.”
I’m curious as to how the fire station’s operations will continue during the construction phase. This station (Firehouse 13) is the most central to the FiDi.
From the City:
“During construction, fire department personnel and firetrucks would be relocated to nearby offsite fire stations, and would continue to serve the Financial District neighborhood and the city in general. Relocation of fire equipment would take no more than eight hours to complete.”
But the specific plan, in terms of what and whom to where, has not been outlined.
What market need does this address? I realize the pressing need for generating loan officer commissions and revit grid-jockey salaries, but it might be better to let future generations determine how best to use this land.
“Mommy, why are there ugly empty glass buildings with broken windows all over the place? “Well, Junior, developers a hundred years ago had access to infinite cheap capital, and the only way they could justify their existence was to use those loans to rapidly turn every available parcel of land into a testament to their sociopathic greed and immense egos. It’s too expensive to tear them down, and the owners use them as tax write-offs, so we’re stuck them. Now, pass me the oars, and shut up and eat your textured food product.”
I’m sure a mother would address a child differently: “Junior, the commissions filled Granddaddy’s Trust fund …it’s is paying for your pre-school”
That having been said, it does indeed seem a curious time to be proceeding w/ a 100% office tower.. and curious place: this is about as far from the Action as you can get. I’m not sure whether to be cheered – for those who like development – or see it as a serious misreading of he market.
It addresses the need to turn a profit with a private party’s own property. Developers risk their own capital, and if they turn a profit or go broke, it is on them. If the city believes the property can better serve a valid public purpose, the city is free to follow the requirements of the Constitution and pay fair market value for the property and seize it through eminent domain to use for a public purpose.
The developer believes there is a demand for the product, and the market at the time the building is eventually available for lease, which assuming the project moves forward and under the best case scenario would likely be 3-5 years from now, will prove whether or not the developer’s gamble pays off.
Uhm, doesn’t the city already own the property…it’s currently firehouse, after all.
Uh, no the city does not own all the land, which covers private property, 425-445 Washington Street. The original plan did not even include the actual site of the firehouse, and it was for a 22-story hotel. So, to the extent the city actually owns part of the land, it can do what it wants, but there are definitely parcels in this proposed project not owned by the city. So, again, the city is welcome to follow the Constitution and use eminent domain if it would like to put those parcels to public use; otherwise, the developer should be allowed to build as the property is zoned.
Thanks: so yes, it seems the city does own some of it …and it’s either selling or leasing it to the developer (presumably with the stipulation the FH be replaced, tho this whole aspect of the plan has been given little attention).
But your repeated Fifth Amendment tutorials seem to have gone adrift: the OP doesn’t seem to have been arguing the development should be stopped, only that s/he didn’t think the market supported it.
I’m not giving anyone a “tutorial” on the 5th Amendment. I am stating my position that we have zoning for a reason. The site is zoned for occupied space up to 200 feet and for commercial use, subject to the usual Prop. M allocation process, so a private party proposing to build a project on its own land or land it leases that conforms to this zoning should be able to build it without having to prove to anyone that there is going to be market demand for the project 3-5 years out. And, no, based on the other poster’s comment history, I read more of a suggestion that the project should be disallowed based on their opinion of what the future market will support and on what they personally wood like to see get built (to which I say, great, they can go buy a parcel of land and propose their own development).
Actually, yeah, tall buildings aren’t disposable consumer goods that a city can simply toss in the trash for a newer, shinier model. You are being entrusted with an extremely scarce and endangered resource. Large projects should be reviewed for their future impact on the quality of life in the city. In the normative sense, cities shouldn’t exist simply for carpetbagging land pirates to exploit, although in the positive sense, they generally do. Poor construction choices often negatively impact a city for generations. Continued abuses induce civic backlash and then the developers howl that they’re being treated unfairly. Large projects should do more than merely meet minimum zoning and code requirements. The best long-term interests of the city should be weighed against the short-term profits of the real estate industrial complex. Right now, despite the party down good times for the REIC, we’re in the middle of social and economic upheaval unseen since the Depression. Put the brakes on and see what will best serve the city long-term.
This building looks nicer than most of the garbage built over the last two decades, but the city has absolutely no use for what this building offers, and it is destined to be taken over by the bank when no lessees will be found. “Look at that nice empty building,” people will say, before it’s covered in plywood…
Two Beers, get a over it. I sometimes go a year without visiting this site, and every time, I return it is always you and the usual suspects in the comments griping about every proposal, whether it’s housing or a commercial building or anything else. Too paraphrase Viola Davis’s in one of her famous (if lesser roles), aren’t you tired, Two Beers? Aren’t you tired?
To the extent the proposal is being built on private property, whether owned or leased, if it meets the zoning and Prop. M allocation, it should get built if the developer wishes to proceed. I get it, you don’t like it. That’s great. But, you don’t control what gets built or what doesn’t. And, developers build for what they perceive will be the current market needs once a building opens, which as mentioned, in this case, assuming all the approvals come through, will likely be 3-5 years from now (or perhaps longer). If the building sits empty, then that’s a risk the developer and the bank took, and too bad for them. So, it sits empty. Eventually, it would find a tenant, or it would be converted to a different use (like the former office buildings on Van Ness near City Hall).
Let future generations build or adapt for themselves, they don’t need consideration now. Those lovely old SF Victorians weren’t built for the way we live now, and most require extensive remodeling to fit our current needs, even if you like the style and wish to preserve much of the historical features. Future generations adapt or replace older buildings, and they have throughout most of human history.
Another mediocre new tower – but aren’t they almost all so. At least it’s not downright off-putting as is the Salesforce tower.
Anyway, the project’s financial viability seems suspect. As it is they dropped the condo component (presumably as condo prices were stalling) and replaced it with office space. That was before the pandemic and the now 16 million plus feet of empty office space in SF. Hotel space? Can you say overbuilt. The SF Business Times just reported that the Oakland and San Jose tourist/hotel industries will return to normal before SF with both those cities currently having significantly higher occupancy rates. The Rheumatology Association recently canceled its planned fall SF convention. It was to be the largest of the year with 16k attendees and 50k plus hotel rooms needed. On top of this the cost of construction materials is going through the roof. Don’t be surprised when this project does not break ground this year.
Well, to be fair, the hotel/tourist business in both Oakland and SJ is about 2% that of SF…literally.
But as i noted (above) it does seem like an ill-fated project.
This is likely an entitlement play. The developer has put a lot of money into this already – what the hay, follow it through. Once entitled the developer can sit on it for maybe a decade at little ongoing cost. Put it on the market during that time looking for that not so ephemeral greater fool. At the same time leverage their immediate investment capital into markets where major new office/hotel construction is actually happening – like Seattle or even Redwood City.
“…it was observed that the majority of [Maritime Plaza] users engage in transitory activities that are less sensitive to the availability of sunlight.”
Not that I’d support it, but such a subjective finding seems ripe for a legal challenge and appeal.
It is a pretty standard finding if you read any of these determinations, also the finding is supported by an underlying shadow study–it is not just an unsupported statement. And, while potentially any approval or permit could be appealed or subject to a lawsuit, these sort of findings usually prevail. For example, the SalesForce Tower casts some shadow on the Embarcadero Plaza, which was noted in a shadow study done as part of its environmental review, and yet the completed tower now stands looming over the skyline.
Have you actually been to Maritime Plaza?
It’s a shame the firehouse won’t make it to 50 years… but I suppose even if it had, the public does not care much for Brutalist architecture, even when it is a genuinely good example.
That’s a really ugly fire station that it is replacing. I am glad they made the correct decision not to let a small amount of shade stop a nice infill construction project occur. Getting a bit of shade in a park is nice actually. This will be a nice addition to the block.
“could be noticeable to park users that are particularly sensitive to the availability of sunlight”
This stuff makes me want to hurt myself
I mean, if you have a habit of sitting on a sunlit bench in the park around a particular time every day, like many older people do, then you would count as a park user who is sensitive to the availability of sunlight. There just don’t happen to be many of them in this park.
UPDATE: Impact of Proposed Fire Station Tower Appealed, Rather Ironically
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