Developers meet with Sequoias to discuss condominium project


PROPOSED CONDO — ADCO wishes to build a 36-story condo in Japantown. courtesy of San Francisco Planning Department

PROPOSED CONDO — ADCO wishes to build a 36-story condo in Japantown.       courtesy of San Francisco Planning Department
PROPOSED CONDO — ADCO wishes to build a 36-story condo in Japantown. courtesy of San Francisco Planning Department

A New York-based developer wants to build a high-rise in San Francisco’s Japantown, but its proposal has fallen mostly on deaf ears, with one community leader likening the plan to the dark days of the redevelopment era. Dozens of residents living in the Sequoias, a senior housing complex, and several representatives from local community organizations attended a presentation by developer ADCO on the 36-story condo July 27.

In the iteration revealed mid-2013, the condo situated between Gough and Laguna Streets in Japantown is a 416-foot tall, 262-unit condominium that the developer is currently seeking approval from the city to build. Local residents, especially those living in the Sequoias next door, have lobbied against the building, which is requesting a spot-zoning adjustment from the current height limit of 240 feet. The condominium is also adjacent to Cathedral Hill Plaza at 1333 Gough St., a rent-controlled 169-unit apartment building also owned and operated by ADCO. A set of tennis courts and a closed pool currently sit where ADCO hopes to build the tower.

Concerns about Impacts
Linda Corso, general manager of Cathedral Hill Plaza and an ADCO representative, presented potential impacts and proposed work on the project. According to Corso, most shadow and wind impacts generated by the development are mitigated. Residents, however, argued that the wind is already an issue, and they claim that the new tower would impact sunlight on the surrounding buildings.

In response, Corso said “it’s not normal to do a shadow analysis on every building,” and argued that new shadow cast on public parks would be minimal. “We assume that the shadow cast on this building will be similar to what’s cast on Peace Plaza,” she said. She also countered that the portion of Sequoias’ tower closest to the property line currently looks out onto a solid concrete wall and the tennis courts — which would be replaced by a glass-walled café and fitness center — that will be set further back from the property line.

Sequoias residents maintained that the new tower would have an adverse effect on them. “I think it’s reasonable to request a specific shadow study on this building,” resident Karen Stern said during the Q-and-A session.

Residents continued to ask for a code-compliant 240-foot tower. The Japanese Cultural Heritage and Economic Sustainability Strategy, a city-endorsed document meant to guide Japantown’s future development that was adopted in 2013, calls for no significant increase in height limits for buildings. Corso acknowledged the document and its wishes, but maintained that ADCO wanted an exception.

Gerald Green, a consultant hired by the developer, added that, while the draft environmental impact report mentions three code-compliant alternatives to the project, including an “environmentally superior alternative” proposed by the Sequoias that features town homes and a smaller tower, their 400-foot project “generates no additional impacts” compared to a 240-foot building. And “from a comprehensive point of view, it’s a project which provides greater benefits economically and provides more housing,” making the “environmentally superior” alternative not necessarily the “best” alternative.

“It’s not about us making a little bit less money, it’s about benefits for the community,” Corso said, after which residents erupted in laughter.

Community Benefits
Shelley Bradford Bell, another ADCO consultant, said she had been in contact with various community organizations. “We’ve also been talking to the community at large for what our community benefits package will look like,” she said. According to Bell, they have spoken to the Japantown Task Force, “Japantown Community Foundation” (sic), and Kimochi Inc. within Japantown and others in the surrounding area, such as the Booker T. Washington Community Service Center and the San Francisco African American Chamber of Commerce, which are affiliated with the Fillmore area. Bell said they have also spoken to other organizations such as SPUR, which describes itself as an organization that “promotes good planning and good government in the San Francisco Bay Area,” the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition and the Boys & Girls Club of San Francisco.

“We’re going around and talking to everybody. Japantown wants to see us do things that will help preserve the cultural history of the community. South of Market wants to see more jobs, more safety, more programs for youth. The Rosa Parks Senior Center want us to create additional housing for seniors,” Bell said. She said the laundry list of benefits will be submitted to Mayor Ed Lee and Supervisor London Breed for them to create a benefits package ADCO will pay for.

Community Reactions
The Japantown Task Force, Kimochi and the San Francisco Japantown Foundation confirmed ADCO had met with them to discuss the project. The task force wants to see “a code compliant building with community benefits for all of Japantown,” said Bob Hamaguchi, its executive director. Steve Nakajo, executive director of Kimochi, said his organization has not taken a position, but has submitted a benefits package for Kimochi Home, which is roughly a block away from the proposed tower. Donald Tamaki, board president of the Japantown Foundation, said his board has not taken a position as a “non-aligned community organization,” but that it has “communicated our concern that any community benefits which the developer provides should be done in a way which does not create divisions within the community.”

ADCO has not contacted the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California, also in Japantown, Paul Osaki, its executive director, said. “I think that the proposed project has no business being around Japantown,” he added in an e-mail to the Nichi Bei Weekly. Osaki called the project “redevelopment in disguise.”

Dave Latina, vice president of business development at Northern California Presbyterian Homes & Services, said that while NCPHS leadership was pleased that ADCO held the meeting, they were disappointed that the developer did not address the concerns his residents had regarding wind and shadow impacts. NCPHS operates the Sequoias and other senior housing complexes in San Francisco. Latina reiterated that ADCO should consider integrating the “environmentally superior alternative” the NCPHS designed, as well  as discounted access to the proposed fitness center’s pool and “a community benefits package that addresses the needs of the neighborhood community stakeholders, not just ADCO’s selected organizations.”

“We agree with the residents that the only defined community benefits they committed to were those in the SF Better Streets Plan,” Latina wrote in an e-mail to the Nichi Bei Weekly. The city plan, adopted in 2010, requires streetscape improvements such as wider sidewalks and safer crosswalks regardless of whether ADCO adopts the 400 feet project or code-compliant alternative.

Following the meeting, Marlayne Morgan, president of the Cathedral Hill Neighbors Association, told the Nichi Bei Weekly that her organization  has been involved with five proposals for condos, four of them follow the established zoning height limits. “Why does ADCO think they get to be an outlier?” she asked.

“There’s a difference between building a building and living next to it,” said Suzanne Smith, president of the Sequoias San Francisco Resident Association. “This is a very personal issue for the residents.” Smith remained wary of the proposed benefits and said the height of the building continues to be an issue.

According to Corso, the planning department is finalizing the environmental impact report by responding to public comments filed with the city last year. She estimated that, if the project were to gain approval by the end of this year, the project could break ground late 2016.

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