Plans revealed for high-rise in S.F.’s J-Town

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ADCO and Cathedral Hill Plaza Associates, L.P. filed a Notice of Preparation of an Environmental Impact Report to build a 262-unit, 36-story, 416-foot tall residential tower in San Francisco’s Japantown on June 12. If approved, the proposed project would take place at 1481 Post St. on the western portion of 1333 Gough St.

According to Ross Guehring of Barbary Coast Consulting, ADCO’s local media representative, the project has been in the works since 2005. The New York-based ADCO has owned the land since the 1960s and previously developed the Cathedral Hill Plaza, located on 1333 Gough St., and Cathedral Hill Tower, 1200 Gough St., as part of the Western Addition Redevelopment Plan, according to their Website.

The project contains both the current project site and the 14-story, 169-unit apartment building, 1333 Gough St. The two buildings share the same plot of land. The apartment building at 1333 Gough St. will remain as is in the new project, but the adjoining 126-space parking structure and recreational facilities located above will be demolished in order to build the 36-story tower. The project proposes a four-level subsurface parking garage containing 442 parking spaces for both the new tower and the older apartment building, and to renovate the Cathedral Hill Plaza Athletic Club, located in 1333 Gough St., according to the project’s initial study.

The project currently is zoned as 240-E, which caps the maximum building height to 240 feet. The project’s initial study states that the project would seek rezoning for the site into a 410-G, which would allow the building to have a new height maximum of 410 feet.

An informational presentation held by Barnes, Mosher, Whitehurst, Lauter and Partners on June 25 explored the community’s options in fighting the new development. Nick Panagopoulos, the company’s senior associate, said his firm was hired by the Northern California Presbyterian Homes & Services, which operates The Sequoias San Francisco. The Sequoias is located next door to the proposed project site. The Sequoias is a 27-story retirement community at 1400 Geary Blvd.; while the initial study erroneously stated it is 396 feet tall, Guehring said the actual height of the building is about 300 ft. high, including the bulkhead of the building.

Michael Kent, an environmental analyst hired by Northern California Presbyterian, explained the NOP-EIR, and how the project will advance through its approval process. “This is explicitly a process involving the public,” he said. “During a 30-day scoping period, the planning department asks the public to comment on what the EIR should potentially study.” Kent stated that the notice announces to the public what ADCO is proposing, and the potential impacts the project has on the local quality of life. Kent told the meeting attendees to use the public comment period, ending July 12, to point out potentially significant issues the project should investigate and mitigate.

“The NOP-EIR also states what is not significant, including impacts mitigated by existing codes,” Kent said. “Be specific about your concerns. If you want to address traffic impacts, explain which intersection or for what kind of traffic. Pedestrians? Cars?”

Marlayne Morgan, president of the Cathedral Hill Neighborhood Association, discussed her coalition’s efforts to scale back the California Pacific Medical Center’s new hospital on the corner of Van Ness Avenue and Geary Boulevard. She said it took eight years to scale back plans for a 600-bed hospital to a 300-bed hospital.

She warned that ADCO has been in the city for decades and is willing to spend the money to make sure they can build what they want on the site. “They will fund campaigns, they will give incentives to organizations to support the project,” she said. “That’s a key element on how planning projects are approved — how much money they are willing to pay in the planning process.”

Ted Weber, who lives at The Sequoias, spoke on behalf of the retirement community. He said the proposed tower, which would have a 10-foot walkway between the two buildings, would only be 80 feet away from his living room. He said the city advises 115 feet between high-rise towers. His primarily objection, however, were for other residents in the building.

“This is a long-term continual-care retirement community and we have three medical floors. A nursing floor, assisted living and a memory floor,” he said. “Individuals on each of those floors would suffer not only the months and years of construction, but they will always be forced to have, as their only view, the wall of a building only 16 feet away.”

He also mentioned other issues the project faces, including traffic congestion on Post Street. The project said the parking garage will be accessible from Post Street, which Weber said was already congested. He argued that the increased traffic poses a particular threat to the seniors living in the neighborhood. He also expressed concerns over quality of life and that the 410-foot tower makes “a mockery of zoning laws” by greatly impacting the city’s skyline.

Guehring said in an e-mail to the Nichi Bei Weekly that the new project will enliven the local streetscape through landscape improvements, which will improve neighborhood safety and make traffic congestion mitigation a priority in the approval process.

“We heard from the community and Planning staff that the original design was too modern for the neighborhood,” Guehring wrote. “We listened to this feedback, started over with a new architectural team, and have put forth a unique and iconic design that complements Cathedral Hill.” He went on to say the project is at an ideal location since it is close to the proposed Van Ness and Geary Bus Rapid Transit projects, placing 1481 Post St. near two major mass-transit corridors, well-suited for high-rise development.

Regarding the impact on the skyline, Guehring said the tower will “create a more varied skyline that accentuates and follows the rhythm of the topography of Cathedral Hill.” He said the slender design would also have a smaller impact than a shorter, bulkier building.

Guehring stated that ADCO is getting ready to extend invitations to those concerned about the proposed project to meet. “As we have in the past, we will meet with the entire community, including people who are opposed, on multiple occasions to discuss the project,” he said.

Panagopoulos urged those who attended the meeting to get involved with the process. He said the group is organizing with the Website, www.soscathedralhill.com. While still in its earliest stages, Panagopoulos said he was excited to see a great turnout for the first meeting. “We had more than 300 people sign-in at the town hall meeting, a great crowd and … bigger than I expected.”

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