1601 Larkin Rendering as Proposed
While the Planning Department is recommending certification of the Environmental Impact Report for the proposed Stanley Saitowitz designed 1601 Larkin Street project (which would raze the United Methodist Church at the corner of Clay and replace it with a 63 foot residential building with 27 units over parking), it is also recommending the Planning Commission not approve a conditional use authorization (as well as rear yard variance) necessary for the project to exceed 40 feet in height.
The basis for the Planning Department’s recommendation:

The project would result in an abrupt change in scale compared with existing buildings in the vicinity.
The massing of the project is not sculpted to appropriately transition to adjacent lower building or to reflect the underlying topography.
The project does not sufficiently break the apparent scale of the building into discrete elements to a degree that justifies the requested bulk exceptions.
The project would result in the demolition of an historic resource.
The project not desirable for or compatible with the surrounding neighborhood.

In the court of public opinion, 250 communications (letters, emails, and petition signatures) have been received by the Planning Department in support of the project versus 50 communications from those who are opposed.
The project will be heard by the Planning Commission this Thursday.
1601 Larkin: Comments, Responses And Latest Renderings [SocketSite]
1601 Larkin Reignites An Architects Versus Planning Design Debate [SocketSite]
1601 Larkin Conditional Use Authorization Hearing Summary [sf-planning.org]

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Comments from “Plugged-In” Readers

  1. Posted by BobN

    Hmmm… the first three “complaints” could be used to describe quite a few of our most cherished buildings…

  2. Posted by tsgeu

    What is the difference between the planning department and planning commission? This is the first time I realized these are two separate bureaucracies.

  3. Posted by plannerperson

    The Planning Commission is simply the legislative body that hears “cases” from the Planning Department when necessary (most things never go to the Planning Commission). The Planning Commission is composed of 7 appointed members, with appointments roughly split between the Mayor and the Board of Supes. Sometimes they appoint good people, sometimes they appoint dentists and non-profit ED’s that know nothing about development, architecture and urban design, economics, etc. In many ways it’s no different from all the other city “Commissions”, it’s just that some land use entitlements go to them first (but can often be kicked up to the Board of Supervisors if it’s controversial enough).

  4. Posted by scurvy

    Just build something! Anything! Tear that church down already. Please! Worst. Eyesore. Ever.

  5. Posted by tsgeu

    Got it. Thanks!

  6. Posted by Gil

    The proposed building looks as awful as the circa 70s style apartment house in the foreground.
    Hopefully it won’t get built. If it does what a visually atrocious corner this will be.

  7. Posted by noearch

    I suppose you could also say that the Planning Commission is composed of a bunch of old farts out of touch with reality and new urbanism.
    You could say the Planning Dept. is composed of (some) genuinely talented people who work hard to make our city great, and is also composed of other people, not so talented or professional, who spend their time downloading porn on office time.
    That’s another way to define the difference between these two governmental bodies.

  8. Posted by Augustus

    The snide comment about the “dentist” fails to recognize that Dr Antonini is the most intelligent and reasonable member of the Planning Commission.
    Some of the members of the board, Moore, Olague, Sugaya, believe in an extreme form of government intervention in the lives of regular people: they simply do not believe in private property.
    They believe they represent the “people” in the sense of a socialist dictatorship, even when the people directly concerned do not agree.
    Recent examples:
    1.the people including leaders of African American cultural institutions, who live in the Western Addition, wanted more parking spaces in the new supermarket on Fulton. They were denied.
    2. the people in the Sunset did not want a marijuana business in their neighborhood. It was approved anyway.
    3. the people on Nob Hill did not want more Live Nation concerts in the Masonic Auditorium. It was approved anyway. Commissioner Borden had the preposterous idea that the neighbors were racially motivated, so she voted for more concerts.
    The Planning Commission is as dysfunctional as the Board of Supervisors. Newsom is “left wing” outside of SF, but he is “moderate” here. We need commissioners with common sense and less ideology.
    We may get it in another generation when the condos south of Market are full of owners. They will vote liberal but not crazy.

  9. Posted by Snark17

    Why do all his buildings look exactly the same? Maybe this qualifies as a chain store and was declined on that basis.

  10. Posted by anon

    Augustus,
    In each of the cases that you mention, it sounds to me like the *NEIGHBORS* were the ones that wanted something changed, and the citywide property rights were upheld. The owners of the Masonic Auditorium don’t have property rights to their own property? The owner of the building that was leased to the pot business don’t have property rights to their own property? How is the planning commission being “socialist” by allowing individual property rights to trump the so-called “needs” of the neighbors that don’t own the property?
    I’m very confused.

  11. Posted by stucco-sux

    If it was covered in fake spray on stucco, butt-ugly, beige and for recovering meth addicts, it would be approved in a heartbeat.

  12. Posted by invented

    Why even bother with the expense of spray on stucco, just paint the plywood and watch it warp and splinter within oh about 12 mos.
    In a city where a major 6-lane boulevard (Geary) is flanked for the most part by one story buildings, and where keeping things looking the very same as 100 yrs ago is considered progress, no wonder this low rise blip on Larkin would be considered too tall.

  13. Posted by 45yo hipster

    Personally I like saitowtz’s designs…or at least the idea of his designs. He’s an artist for gods sake! Why should he modulate the facade or step it down? This is art!
    As for noearch’s comment on planning dept…yeah but it’s been kinda slooowww around there lately. Perhaps the added stimulation was a necessary evil.

  14. Posted by noearch

    I (mostly) like Saitowit’s designs too. They are not easy to comprehend or understand, but his work is elegant, refined and well detailed. Doesn’t mean we need it all over the place, but by and large his work stands out as unique, and modern. You won’t find stucco on his work.
    As for the planning dept…slow or not, some of those lazy ass planners ought to know better than to sit around and d/l porn. Seriously, I don’t even do that….
    🙂

  15. Posted by LarryW

    @noearch: I would not be so quick to sing the praises of the Planning Department. A lot of the people there seem to have their own very strong vision of what they think San Francisco should look like and aren’t particularly interested in listening to the neighborhood. I have participated in a number of “community meetings” sponsored by the the Planning Department and have come away with the clear impression that these meetings were designed just to provide cover for what the planners wanted to do — not to actually solicit and respond to the input of the community.

  16. Posted by Toady

    Of course, the real reason why it wasn’t approved was that it had no bay windows.

  17. Posted by noearch

    @larryw: actually, I was being rather kind to the planning dept. compared to some of my past criticism of them. But you’re right; many of them don’t listen to the neighborhoods, or to architects. I have had some run ins with them on several projects. Some of the worst are simply rude and aloof, especially those who staff the planning counter on the first floor. Some are indifferent and lazy. A few I have worked with have been helpful, professional and open minded. They are the exception to the rule, I think.

  18. Posted by Skirunman

    The reason this did not get approved is the developer was asking for Conditional Use Authorization to exceed the zoned 40 height limit and to not comply with the rear yard setbacks. Instead of asking to not comply with current zoning and planning build something that does comply and it will get approved no matter if it is stucco or Saitowitz.

  19. Posted by Jean Francois

    @scurvy why don’t you come out to the Planning Commission hearing if you want this P.O.S. tore down?! @Skirunman the height limit is 65 ft. look at the zoning map. The planning department in this city needs a thorough cleaning. The Methodist Church applied for a Demolition 7 years ago… Bureaucracy in this city is an absurd waste of money. This property is falling down, the Church has an absolute right to tear it down and the city is wasting tax $ instead of gaining tax $, meanwhile homeless and drug addicts camp on our corner every night as chunks of this decaying building fall onto the sidewalk jeopardizing lives of hardworking tax paying, San Franciscans.

  20. Posted by ArkEtek

    How do the neighbors get rid of this blight, the Methodist Church get its money, and the developer get a cool, new building with Board of Supes Prez DAVID CHIU, who lives directly across from the church, meddling with Planning and egging on the preservationists? Who actually takes care of business and the majority of people who live and work in this City with all the time spent pandering to the fringe element?

  21. Posted by Joe

    So 50 against and 250 for? AND they still recommend disapproval? WTF?

  22. Posted by James

    the developer is already asking for exceptions to the code, then complains when the building is rejected? Next time, design it to code.

  23. Posted by AllOk

    In my (admittedly limited) experience, I’ve been impressed with the folks at the Planning Department. Some of them are as frustrated with the system as we are, at least the ones I’ve worked with.

  24. Posted by AlfieJr

    it’s another greedy project that tries to pack as much as possible into a lower-scaled neighborhood. Saitowit can do just as good a job on a smaller building. “conditional use” approvals need to be earned by advancing neighborhood goals. they are not flimsy excuses for developers to just say “gimme more $” like this.

  25. Posted by rubber_chicken

    I gotta agree with Planning on this one:
    They are not prescribing architectural style or language, and they’ve agreed the church should go.
    But they do take issue with bulk and the lack of responsiveness to topography – basic issues of scale.
    It’s no wonder there are no renderings showing the broad, bulky frontage on Clay (and why these images have been removed from Saitowitz’ website).

  26. Posted by lyqwyd

    AlfieJr, if it was 250 for approval, with only 50 opposed, wouldn’t that mean advancing the neighborhood’s goals would be approving the project?

  27. Posted by rubber_chicken

    Letters for or against the project don’t necessarily come from the immediate neighborhood and should not be regarded as a referendum (e.g. many architects city-wide have submitted letters in support of Saitowitz’ projects out of partisan-modernist duty).
    The planning dept gets dysfunctional when they worry about politics and uninformed opinions and not the codes and guidelines.

  28. Posted by zig

    “The planning dept gets dysfunctional when they worry about politics and uninformed opinions and not the codes and guidelines.”
    if everything was about “codes and guidelines” decisions would be mistrial and we wouldn’t need a planning commission

  29. Posted by zig

    “The planning dept gets dysfunctional when they worry about politics and uninformed opinions and not the codes and guidelines.”
    if everything was about “codes and guidelines” decisions would be ministerial and we wouldn’t need a planning commission

  30. Posted by AlfieJr

    lyqwyd – where you been? developers routinely hustle favorable comments like that. from everyone who makes a buck out of the deal, and all their cohorts. and Saltowitz has his own fan club too. you can’t take that stuff at face value.

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