Planning has just completed its preliminary review of the draft plans for multiple mid-rise buildings and six towers rising up to 345 feet in height across the four-block “Freedom West” site bounded by Golden Gate Avenue, Gough, Fulton and Laguna Streets, plans which could yield over 2,300 units of housing; 63,000 square feet of commercial space (including maker and retail spaces); a 150-room hotel; off-street parking for 1,854 cars; and an Innovation Center along Golden Gate Avenue.
And while the nearly 11-acre site is currently only zoned for development up to 40 feet in height, with a maximum of 50 feet in height allowed along Gough, Planning is in support of the project moving forward. From Planning’s Preliminary Assessment of the project as proposed:
“Built in 1973, Freedom West Homes (FWH) is a 382-unit, limited-equity cooperative that was created in response to the turmoil and civic destruction of the urban renewal era. The Reverend J. Austell Hall of Bethel A.M.E Church envisioned FWH as a way to build affordable housing, economic equity and community stability for primarily African-American families in the Western Addition. FWH was one of several church-led partnerships with the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency (SFRA) and US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The cooperative units are affordable (at 40% AMI) and help stabilize the community by allowing resident shareholders to pass the units on to descendants. After nearly 50 years, the FWH lease agreement with HUD ended and left the cooperative in need of a long-term, sustainable financial plan to maintain the site. In 2018, the FWH cooperative partnered with MacFarlane Partners to create a plan to achieve financial independence by rebuilding the site.
The Project Site is located within the Market & Octavia Plan Area. In accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the Board of Supervisors certified the Market & Octavia Plan Final Environmental Impact Report on June 19, 2007. The Market & Octavia Area Plan (MO Plan) and its associated rezoning became effective April 3, 2008. The area plan was subsequently amended in July 2020. The MO Plan generally supports mid- and high-density housing and mixed-uses in this central part of the city, which is highly walkable and transit-served. MO Plan policies seek to ensure a diverse, mixed-income neighborhood with significant levels of affordable housing, whether through inclusionary housing requirements, building on former freeway parcels, and utilizing other public sites. It includes several policies aimed at preserving and increasing affordable housing and housing ownership opportunities for a variety of incomes. At the time of the Area Plan adoption, the neighborhood around the project site was similar to today: primarily multi-family, moderately dense and within one-quarter mile of transit and commercial areas. When the MO Plan was conceived and adopted, the pending issues facing the FWH cooperative were not well understood, and the shareholders of Freedom West Homes had not yet developed any plans to rebuild or change the site. The site became part of the broader RTO zoning district, which, along with the height districts, has remained in place since 2008.
Since then, San Francisco has adopted a number of additional policies and plans relevant to potential changes at the subject site. The voter-approved Proposition K in 2014 and the Mayor’s Directive 17-02 established San Francisco’s priority of building 5,000 homes per year. The 2014 Housing Element aimed to protect and create more affordable housing. It includes policies that encourage limited equity cooperatives, alternatives for funding affordable housing maintenance costs, and the infrastructure needed to realize the housing objectives of community plans, such as the MO Plan. In 2019, SF Planning completed the first phase if its Racial and Social Equity Action Plan, which addressed internal functions, such as resource allocation, staff capacity and training, and aligned the Department with the Citywide Racial Equity Framework. The Department is currently drafting the Action Plan for external functions. In the summer of 2020, both the Planning Commission and Historic Preservation Commission adopted resolutions centering work programs and resource allocation on racial and social equity.
As such, the Department supports an application for a project that provides public benefits commensurate with the increase in height and density, is refined based on stakeholder participation, and responds to community needs.”
That being said, Planning has taken exception to the proposed number of off-street parking spots (which “would induce a significant number of vehicle trips and conflict with City policy of prioritizing sustainable travel modes”) and the net new number of below market rate units the development would provide (133), and notes that the project as proposed “represents an overall development intensity and form that substantively departs from the existing cityscape and would require reconsideration of some existing provisions in the General Plan.”
With that in mind, Planning is recommending that the project team “study shifting the proposed tallest tower towards Gough, among other alternatives,” in order to “complement public views, minimize shadows on key public spaces, and allow for light on surrounding streets,” “modulate the scale of [the proposed] buildings and open spaces in a way that resonates with [existing] neighborhood patterns,” decrease the number of parking spots, and include more below market rate units (“given that the proposed project is seeking a rezoning that would significantly exceed the allowable heights and densities” as zoned).
And considering “the many injustices wrought on this neighborhood by [past] city planning initiatives, including the redevelopment of Western Addition, displacement of San Francisco’s Black community, Japanese American Internment, and the construction of the Central Freeway and Geary expressway,” Planning would like to ensure that it’s “the historically marginalized communities who have suffered the injustices of past urban development efforts” that are the primary beneficiaries of the project.
We’ll keep you posted and plugged-in.