San Francisco’s Planning Department has completed its preliminary review of Brookfield Properties’ proposed Master Plan for redeveloping the 41-acre Stonestown site, a plan which would yield around 2,900 new residential units; up to 200,000 square feet of new office space; a 200-room hotel; and an additional 200,000 square feet of new retail and amenity space wrapped around the Stonestown Galleria to form a new “town center” and neighborhood. And while mostly supportive, Planning does have some notes and concerns.

From Planning’s Preliminary Assessment of Brookfield’s plans which was just sent to the project team:

The project sponsor should continue to refine the Project Vision to ensure the site becomes a true town center that is supported by walkable blocks and neighborhood services. The vision should respond to community feedback and needs, inspire the site design, strengthen community identity, and express a unique sense of place.

While the Department is supportive of the overall vision, we are concerned that the proposed site plan is not completely aligned with the vision. In particular, the proposed site plan appears to strengthen the large singular and contiguous footprint of the existing mall structure, dividing the site into two separated communities with a lack of robust and clear east-west connections.

The site plan should further explore establishing more significant and clear connections across and through the mall, as well as anticipate the possibility that the mall may be removed or reconfigured in the future, ensuring the current mall structure does not inhibit a walkable, connected community in both the near and long-term. The Department strongly recommends reconsidering the proposed grid to provide clearer and more generous east-west connections at street level and a framework of smaller, walkable blocks.

With respect to the proposed residential development, below market rate (BMR) mix and building heights of up to 190 feet on the site (which is currently only zoned for development up to 65 feet in height):

Given that the proposed project is seeking zoning changes that would significantly exceed the allowable heights under current zoning and greater flexibility than the strict application of the current controls, the proportion of new units that are below-market rate should also exceed current Inclusionary Affordable Housing requirements.

The Inclusionary Affordable Housing requirements for the project as proposed would require 20.5% of the rental units, and 22.5% of the condos, to be offered at below market rates (BMR). And given the demographic composition of the surrounding community, the Department is recommending the team focus on BMR housing for seniors and families and explore a potential partnership with SF State “to provide housing for students and faculty members on SF State property.”

In terms of the unit mix overall, “at least 30 percent of the units should be 2 bedroom[s] and 10 percent of the units should be 3-bedroom units, as is consistent with comparable zoning districts.” Given the high rate of ground floor commercial vacancies in San Francisco, “especially coming out of the pandemic, the Department recommends careful consideration of the amount of [proposed] retail,” and that the proposed retail be designed to be “adaptable to other community serving uses or active ground floor residential uses,” “such as social service centers, art studios, and space for non-profit community organizations, educational programs and classes.” And the integration of a public recreation center into the project site is being encouraged as well.

And while Planning “supports keeping a flexible land use program that include a small amount of office space for small professional services firms that serve the local population such as accounting, law, architecture and design, social services and non-profits,” “the Department believes the full proposed maximum 200,000 [Gross Square Feet] of office space is an excessive amount in aggregate and does not align with the project’s programmatic or physical vision of creating a neighborhood town center.”

Once again, Brookfield is aiming to complete the required environmental and design reviews over the next two years, secure approvals, and break ground on the $2 billion redevelopment sometime around 2024, with a phased development of the new condos, apartments and commercial buildings. We’ll keep you posted and plugged-in.

37 thoughts on “Planning Supports Stonestown Redevelopment (But Has Notes)”
  1. “…more generous east-west connections at street level…

    Good of planning to specify that the connections should be at street level. Going up or under suppress pedestrian traffic. Even better would to be to require a 24hr connection, otherwise the developer might just propose using mall floor connections that close for half of the day. One good 24hr connection spanning the middle of the mall superblock should be enough.

    1. A 24 hour connection between two blocks of buildings, that allows for the movement of pedestrians and bicycles (maybe even vehicles if the need should arise). I wonder if there’s even a term for that in planning circles…

      1. There is an existing tunnel under the mall that is used for deliveries, so going under is probably out of the question. A park/green roof on the existing mall would be ideal, but would present the project sponsor with the daunting task of shoring up the existing structures to support it.
        Residents will probably be forced to traipse through the formula retail circus.

        1. Traipsing through the mall would be fine so long as it is at ground level (no stairs or ramps) and open 24hr. It might even be convenient if quick stop businesses like food court carryout lined the pathway.

          1. Isn’t the west side of the mall lower than the east ?? That would seem to preclude your “no stairs or ramps” (or maybe your OK, w/ a natural slope “ramp”)

          2. Yes, a ramp sloped with the natural terrain would be fine. SF after all is not built on flat terrain. What I meant was no avoidable stairs/ramps like you often see with overhead pedestrian crossings. For example that crossing over Geary at Webster discouraged pedestrians. It is better to enable grade level crossing.

          3. Geary being a soulless raceway discourages pedestrians…I doubt that will be at issue here. At least for internalconnections: a crossing of 19th Ave OTHO…

    2. Street level would be nice but probably more important is that it not be too tunnel-like. I think a covered street level passageway can feel more inhospitable than an elevated more open walkway. But given the mall’s height, I’m not sure how they are going to achieve any reasonable east-west connection short of daylighting portions of the mall, which would mean fairly extensive reconstruction that hopefully the retail could recover from.

  2. I live near this project and view this project with about 85% trepidation and 15% hope. I’m all for creating more housing in a walkable community plus keeping bricks and mortar retail alive (what can I say, I’m old-fashioned–even went to a movie the other day) but it is quite the ambitious project. The Planning Dept review actually raises some reasonable points; hopefully, the developers can find the right solutions in a way that pencils out. But, speaking of big West side projects…whatever happened to the ParkMerced project?

  3. When they initially announced site lab as a design lead we thought well maybe they can listen and not become the block builders of the west and solve the transit issues left behind by SFSU-CSU and Parkmerced… does not look like they listened to the real issues of car-centric shopping ? when Trader Joe’s and target moved in started the disaster and now with a gym Whole Foods and a movie theater revamp traffic during work hours and construction vehicles should stop up 19th permanently…

    1. Yes, it’s truly terrible that commercially viable and popular retailers like Target, Trader Joe’s and now Whole Foods moved in and made the mall, er, popular again…?

      The West side of the city is car centric to begin with. Families (who typically live here) tend to have a car these days, maybe two. To think anyone can build developments that will discourage car use in this area is silly and risks creating projects that under deliver and miss the opportunities.

      1. Missed opportunities for profit at the risk of global warming? Come on Parkmerced promised 70 mil and so did SFSU but only if SFMTA had infrastructural projects ready. They of course did not so SFSU prior got out of doing anything transit wise and so far parkmerced has not moved but traffic has not improved. Yes they have cars and just park on side streets etc but best to push for the proper and adequate transit changes than just let it sit for the 20-40 years of build out….

      2. Wow, and yeah 120 years ago everyone had horses and buggies so why would we pave the streets for cars? Things change. Parking lots are a waste and an eyesore, and 19th is already a major bottleneck without adding 100s of additional residential trips at the Winston Drive intersection. It’s literally a no-brainer to plan ahead *before* building (missing opportunity for North Beach MUNI station, I’m looking at you…) than to try to shoehorn streetcar improvements after the fact. To wit, if they’re going to dig up the entire 19th Ave-facing side and do foundations for multi-story buildings, that’s pretty much the perfect opportunity to do a cut-and-cover MUNI tunnel.

        1. Exactly, the parking lots being infilled is not the only answer and below grade is costly even if cut and fill so we had suggested L taraval up sloat and T station design at 20th not 19th so it can be turned and headed south to petco and ymca annex than daylight it up the ramp to an at grade or above grade platform across form mercy with direct egress to an urban square plaza near Whole Foods and new office residential towers surrounding the plaza than shift it via topography changes south to Daly City Bart shortest distance least tunneling and direct to major stops at stonestown / SFSU / cambon senior housing redevelopment proposal and Daly City Bart // 4 stops and get it done faster not slower.. makes sense… ?

  4. It’s a one of a kind a la ugly. Literally proposed by an algorithm where parking lot sq footage converted to human parking lot = xxx amount of lettuce. It pencils out like a Putin. It’s sad. It makes everyone sad.

  5. @Aaron Goodman

    So obviously very new to the area. Road traffic in the Stonestown area now is a fraction of what it was in the days when Emporium was the anchor and you had Tower Records, Good Guys etc. Way before Target, which was Borders, and Trader Joes, which used to be a supermarket. Back in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

    As for “car centric” shopping. You must live a very pampered life with everything delivered to your door. At great expense. Ordinary people with lives and families in SF drive. Its a necessity. Stonestown is the nearest Trader Joes to where I live. If they make it difficult to get to by car I will just drive to the one on Masonic or in Westlake. As I did before it opened. Quickest way of killing a shopping district, make it more difficult for car access. You have just reduced the customer catchment area by about 80%. Even in SF.

    Try this. Try doing a full weeks shopping and then taking in on the 28 bus to get home. Without anything getting broken. It will also take at least three times as long as driving. Even for a short distance. Been driving in SF for many decades and have used MUNI enough over the years to get myself around without needing a route map. Even have a Clipper card. So talking from experience.

    As for the development they are just doing cheap parking lot infill building. No doubt to be filled up with ESL students at SF State in time. Whats going to turn 19’th Ave into a parking lot is the new “lane improvement” work. Even when its finished. They should have done the Brotherhood/Sunset Blvd/Park Presido main arterial project when they had a chance back in the 1950’s. Thats why 19’th Ave will always be a mess.

    1. Not pampered, just focused on the lacking transit solutions for over 10-15 years already… So we should ignore plannings lack of vision and Sfmta’s lack of vision? I walk when I can drive when I have to and attempt to take transit whenever possible.. we lived on the westside prior and have seen over the years how little has been done to alleviate traffic and not have a car pile up when all three projects get started simultaneously. What would be proper is to ensure that with stonestown and SFSU and parkmerced projects and the other domino projects like sloat garden center and Irish center proposals and cambon drive and lacking transit connections on brotherhood summer hill project we start to push for a solution that’s shovel ready not in 20 years but in 5….

    2. No not “new to the area” and yes very versed in the projects transit issues and lacking follow up of government agencies responsible when reviewing new proposals that again do nothing to solve the transit lacking connectivity between districts D7 D11 D10 D1 etc

    3. “Try doing a full weeks shopping and then taking in on the 28 bus to get home. Without anything getting broken. It will also take at least three times as long as driving.”

      Millions of people from Manhattan to Paris to Tokyo seem to do just fine – in very high-value and desirable neighborhoods – without needing everything to be car-centric. Try envisioning a future of effective and efficient public transit instead of ever-more-climate-impacting personal vehicles.

      1. It’s sort of a naive take to just say “envision a future of effective public transportation”. In the realm of reality, this is impossible in SF. It’s taking them 6 years to paint two lanes red on Van Ness. It’s taking over 12 to do 1.5 miles of tunnel from Caltrain to Chinatown. Our government is broken and as a city, the voters have accepted this.

        You cite Manhattan, Paris, Tokyo — these are cities that were able to build a robust subway system before local governments became lazy and incompetent. I want to be optimistic that we can get back to a time when government can pull off huge infrastructure projects, but I see nothing that would put us back on that path.

          1. ah yes… let’s take an extreme outlier and throw up our hands in despair. Conversely in two decades Los Angeles (… Los Angeles!!!) has built a city-spanning network of streetcars and light rail subways. Paris has also recently built multiple new lines.

        1. Not “sort of …naive” but more like full blown clueless: as in even those cities w/ exceptional density public transit runs at a loss. I’m not sure whether those on here always ready to expand these subsidies are $50/hr Muni employees, $XXX,XXX/yr Planning Consultants or just…well, freeloaders, but the advocacy rings hollow.
          Realistically, the alternative to private transit isn’t public transit, it’s (usually) no transit.

          1. Well by that metric streets and freeways run at a loss, because they’re free to use (other than the insufficient gas tax, which doesn’t meet full maintenance costs). There are lots of public goods that are subsidized – public schools, public hospitals, the police (imagine if you had to pay to have the cops come to assist you!) – so the fact that something has a net cost to a government does not make it a bad idea or something to be avoided.

          2. imagine if you had to pay to have the cops come to assist you!

            I’ve heard that imagination is no longer required 🙁 but my broader point was that subsidies ultimately mean something else gets less funding, and while I can only speak for myself, I’d rather have…say… a fire department than a bus driving around all day with five passengers in it.

        2. Very much agree that it takes far too long for many transit (and other infrastructure projects) to be completed, but, in the interest of accuracy, most of the Van Ness project involved underground utility replacement and the surface transit lanes seem to be the quickest and easiest, but most visible and well known, part of the project.

      2. That’s what I did during SFSU and Parkmerced’s proposals but muni and supervisors and planners ignored it and did not see bi county redevelopment transit hubs and now sfcta items on alemany improvements see dec 7 meeting this week more on agenda long range planning but zero equity in D7 – D10 – D11 to solve for the red zones in traffic.

    4. “Ordinary people with lives and families in SF drive. Its a necessity.” Really? I managed to survive living here without a car for decades, even with no Trader Joe nearby. Won’t having a TJ across the street from your condo alleviate the need to drive there? Ever heard of delivery services? Cart share? Please stop thinking suburban. All the driving ruins SF for the rest of us.

      1. Well said. Our family of four does fine without a car and with no discernible damage to our groceries, brought home almost entirely by Muni.

  6. Why not demolish the mall and start over? Rethink the retail /residential integration. It looks like they are building around an outdated mall. Yes, stores will close for a while, but seems like a great opportunity to take a longer view. And maybe build some taller structures.

    1. That might even be what the Stonestown owners have in mind, but in two phases. First convert the perimeter parking to buildings, i.e. the project described in this article. Then in a second phase, demolish the mall and build denser.

      1. Hopefully it is what they have in mind, because having many many apartments where the sole view out the window is going to be the roof of an old shopping mall does not seem like a winning proposition. Even in housing constrained SF.

    2. 2 phase but the problem exists for years 20-40 with no real transit solution implemented just kicked the van down the road..SFSU and parkmerced got away with it watch stonestown do the same… ?

  7. I don’t wanna sound nuts but everyone’s going to want to live in Stonestown and Park Merced is going to become the “old town” affordable option to rent – except they’re getting their lunch eaten by nearby rental houses.

    Maybe time for Park Merced to think about condo-ing off some of their buildings. They almost did a long time ago.

    It’s really a dream situation for Stonestown owners. Students paying them rent, working at the mall and shopping at the mall. And their school is right next door. And they don’t need cars. It’s really going to become a major hub of it’s own.

    1. Parkmerced would sell the first chance they get to flip the property again…. Prior motto was “student living redefined” as they kicked out seniors and families for years… they shot themselves in the proverbial ass.

  8. Mostly agree with the planner’s comments, but turning down the office space is silly. Have they never read Jane Jacobs? Post-WFH, offices will be the way to bring people there on weekdays, making the neighborhood more consistently lively and retail more successful. Plus the Twin Peaks Tunnel has plenty of unused capacity in the reverse-peak direction.

    1. We had suggested air rights redevelopment from brotherhood way to Daly City I-280 and a hyper loop up 280 to San Jose creates more urban redevelopment at the SF southwest entry to SF and a new hub above the freeway and reusing Bart parking areas and refixed intermodal station at Daly City…

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