August 16, 2012

1601 Larkin: Planning's Flip-Flop And Expected Disapproval Today

First St. John's United Methodist Church at Larkin and Clay (Image Source: MapJack.com)

Despite a revised design and the Planning Department's recommendation that the project be approved in June, while San Francisco's Planning Commission voted 5-2 to certify the Environmental Impact Report necessary for a new six-story building at 1601 Larkin to rise, the Commission also passed a motion of intent to disapprove the Conditional Use Authorization (i.e., approval) for the proposed project by a vote of 6-1.

1601 Larkin Rendering

This afternoon, San Francisco's Planning Commission is scheduled to make good (or bad) on their intent to disapprove the proposed development of 1601 Larkin Street.

While the Planning Department had previously recommended approval of the project subject to modifications "to achieve greater compatibility with the scale and character of the neighborhood," the latest staff report recommends the proposed 1601 Larkin Street project be disapproved and the dilapidated First St. John's United Methodist Church be left in place at the corner of Larkin and Clay.

The Planning Department's basis for recommending disapproval of the project today:

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

The Planning Department's basis for recommending approval of the project in June:

1. The project adds 27 dwelling units to the Cityʹs housing stock in a location suitable for infill development.
2. The residents will add to the customer base of the area, supporting the economic viablity of the surrounding commercial establishments and will activate the sidewalks within the Polk Street, Pacific Avenue, and Van Ness Avenue commercial corridors.
3. Public transit and neighborhood‐serving commercial establishments are abundant in the area. Residents are able to walk or utilize transit to commute and satisfy convenience needs without reliance on the private automobile.
4. The project has been designed with well‐articulated facade treatments, sculpting of the upper stories, and a well‐defined pedestrian realm to reduce the apparent bulk of the development and to complement the pattern of existing development in the area.
5. The project is necessary and desirable, is compatible with the surrounding neighborhood, and would not be detrimental to persons or adjacent properties in the vicinity.

Yes, according to the Planning Department the project was "necessary and desirable" and "compatible with the surrounding neighborhood" in June, but today it's not.

As plugged-in people know, the proposed project was also dissapproved by the Planning Commission in 2010, prior its latest redesign.

1601 Larkin Street Design Sneak Peek Take Two (Or Three) [SocketSite]
Praying For/From One Big Penthouse Atop 1601 Larkin As Proposed [SocketSite]
1601 Larkin Street Design Sneak Peek Take Three (Or Four) [SocketSite]
Development Of 1601 Larkin Disapproved By Planning Commission [SocketSite]
1601 Larkin: Comments, Responses And Latest Renderings [SocketSite]

First Published: August 16, 2012 8:15 AM

Comments from "Plugged In" Readers

Wow, I think I just may want the church to remain - for reasons 1-5 above.

Posted by: guest at August 16, 2012 8:23 AM

I think we should just leave the church until it starts to crumb and pieces fall into the street! Sometimes I wonder why developers or building owners even deal with this city. You try to build something and everyone goes crazy!

Posted by: Marina Boy at August 16, 2012 8:38 AM

What thread was that person asking for examples of SF making it difficult to develop new housing? Point them here.

Posted by: R at August 16, 2012 8:56 AM

Cant that church be repurposed as a frozen yogurt stand? Or funnel cakes?

Posted by: sf at August 16, 2012 9:00 AM

Whether it is diffficult or not to develop in the the City, points 1-5 of why approval is not recommended are the usual constraints on development almost anywhere in the City. I don't see how this project attempted to abide by any of them. You hit three of the five, maybe you have a shot. This design, however, just looks like over reaching, and appears set up to fail.

Posted by: Mr. E at August 16, 2012 9:00 AM

I hope the diocese sues the city of SF for tons of money.
This is nothing but pandering to 2-3 very aggressive neighborhood activists whose only goal is to see nothing developed on that corner forever.

Explain to me how we go from:
"The project is necessary and desirable, is compatible with the surrounding neighborhood, and would not be detrimental to persons or adjacent properties in the vicinity."

to this:
"The project not desirable for or compatible with the surrounding neighborhood"

no changes to the project at all during the flip flop.

I have lived nearby the church since it was still a functioning church. homeless people piss, shi*, shoot up, and sleep there every night - but who gives a crap about that as long as we appease the people who complain the loudest. Its all about the democratic process in SF right?

[Editor's Note: Behind Closed Doors: 1601 Larkin Settlement Discussions This Week.]

Posted by: Joe at August 16, 2012 9:18 AM

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!

Posted by: sictypercenttogether at August 16, 2012 9:21 AM

Joe, who are those "2-3 very aggressive neighborhood activists" and what do they want the corner lot for?

Posted by: observant neighbor at August 16, 2012 9:28 AM

I don't really get it. If neighbors do not want a lot to be built up, they should pool their cash together and purchase the property.
We give way too much power to the hysterical egomaniacs in this town.

Posted by: lol at August 16, 2012 9:33 AM

Thanks to the editor for following the story of this project as it shows perfectly what many of us have been saying regarding the difficulties with building in San Francisco. Even bay windows are not enough it would seem anymore. @sf is right, we are becoming a Disneyland.

Posted by: AnonArch at August 16, 2012 9:33 AM

The initial five points are so compelling and point to ways this development will enhance the neighborhood in real terms.

The initial decision should stand. The city is wrecking itself.

Posted by: midcentfa at August 16, 2012 9:40 AM

Someone should try to get approval denied on a project because it's too small for the neighborhood.

Posted by: EH at August 16, 2012 9:58 AM

I feel like my head is about to explode.

Planning Department June: "The project is necessary and desirable, is compatible with the surrounding neighborhood, and would not be detrimental to persons or adjacent properties in the vicinity."

Planning Department Today: "The project not desirable for or compatible with the surrounding neighborhood."

---

Planning Department June: "The project has been designed with well‐articulated facade treatments, sculpting of the upper stories, and a well‐defined pedestrian realm to reduce the apparent bulk of the development and to complement the pattern of existing development in the area."

Planning Department Today: "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."

---

Planning Department June: "The project adds 27 dwelling units to the Cityʹs housing stock in a location suitable for infill development."

Planning Department Today: "The project would result in the demolition of an historic resource."

WTF?

Posted by: Michael at August 16, 2012 11:10 AM

I don't get it. What's the real reason it's being denied? Is it just too big?

Having a tough time understanding why local neighborhood groups wouldn't want this built, unless they just feel it's too big.

Posted by: DanRH at August 16, 2012 11:31 AM

I think we should turn that lovely church into a homeless shelter...

Posted by: 48yo hipster at August 16, 2012 11:35 AM

Obviously someone with influence changed the mind of the Planning Department. The aesthetics of the new building haven't changed.

I am strongly in favor of development, but based on the picture here, the proposed building has no redeeming architectural merit and is in fact out of scale with its neighbors.
Why don't they hire a more talented architect?

Posted by: conifer at August 16, 2012 11:51 AM

Even though it's a tempting way to get back at a few short-sighted neighbors, you do not want a NEW shelter. Once they open, they're there forever and the homeless population will have increased by the exact number of beds of that shelter.

Remember: you help them, you own them.

Posted by: lol at August 16, 2012 11:51 AM

This really pisses me off. I had almost 10 happy years living in this neighborhood in the 90s and the church was a blight back then.

Getting rid of the "vagrant magnet" of the abandon church would have been a huge improvement for everyone.

Stop standing in the way.

Posted by: wc1 at August 16, 2012 1:03 PM

"2. The massing of the project is not sculpted to appropriately transition to adjacent lower building or to reflect the underlying topography."

Unless you're building a hobbit hole or Falling Water a multi-unit urban structure in the middle of other multi-unit structures can NEVER reflect the underlying topography. It's a building. It's primary incursion on any landscape is UP.

And yes... it's 6 stories instead of 3 or 4... it's in line with its neighbors where it shares walls and only increases in height by either two or three floors. And it's at the TOP of an incline according to the rendering... what says reflecting the underlying topology more than an increase in height? Dirt?

Posted by: noshadows at August 16, 2012 2:17 PM

Turn it into a pot dispensary. That way it can annoy the neighbors for a few years then eventually get seized by the Feds who can then build whatever they want without the city having a say.

Posted by: Rillion at August 16, 2012 3:54 PM

I vote for the funnel cake stand

Posted by: fancy rental at August 17, 2012 12:24 AM

Something tells me the right asses weren't kissed the right way to get this project approved. Probably should have had Saitowitz give it a shot.

Posted by: enzo at August 17, 2012 5:21 PM

Saitowitz did give it a shot in 2010 - see the last two Socketsite listings above. The NIMBYs didn't like it either.

Posted by: Jim at August 17, 2012 5:32 PM

So, the vagrants who spend their evenings there and crap all over the sidewalk get to stay there? Yea! Tell the developer to get his head out his a-- and make it inline with rest of the neighborhood. This is a battle everyone is losing.

Posted by: Russian Hill Dweller at August 24, 2012 9:12 PM

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