August 28, 2012

The Case For A Shorter (Or Perhaps Taller) Tower At 706 Mission?

706 Mission Rendering

As we reported when we first published the details and renderings for the proposed 550-foot tower to rise at 706 Mission last month:

Currently zoned for 400-feet, the project will require a zoning map amendment to see its full potential versus being cut short. Assuming an amendment, a determination that new shadows cast on Union Square are not adverse will be required as well.
The shadow calculations prepared for the proposed project indicate that it would cast net new shadow on Union Square during the morning hours from early October through early November and from early February through early March. The proposed project would not cast net new shadow on Union Square after 9:30 AM on any day during the year.
On an annual basis, the proposed project would cast 337,744 sfh of net new shadow on Union Square, which would be an increase of about 0.22 percent relative to the existing annual shadow on the park. This amount of net new shadow would exceed the remaining shadow budget of 323,123 sfh of shadow that could be cast on Union Square by proposed future development projects.

Whiling acknowledging that city planners seem to believe the proposed tower will complement Jessie Square, John King plays the "but what if they’re wrong" card and suggests a shorter tower makes more sense on the site:

A better approach here would be a high-rise in the 25-story range, exquisitely detailed and shaped to capture the eye from the street. In other words, along the lines of such diminutive standouts as 101 Second St. and the city's most recent condominium tower, One Hawthorne.
It wouldn't turn heads on the skyline. Instead, you could imagine it catching the eye when seen from Yerba Buena Gardens, glowing against the mundane slabs behind it to the north and east.
This approach would mean no shadows on Union Square. It also would silence the most vocal critics of the tower, speeding up the approval process. And in San Francisco, that might be the most valuable subsidy of all.

Based on our estimates, a 25-story tower would reduce the residential gross square footage of the building by 285,000 square feet, over half the proposed density for the site in San Francisco’s urban core.

We’ll also conservatively estimate that a loss of 285,000 gross square feet at this site would represent at least $425 million in sales, which if realized, would represent initial transfer taxes of over $3 million and property taxes of over $5 million a year.

UPDATE: While we’re well aware Mr. King isn’t suggesting the current design simply be shrunk, an approximation of how the site would look with the current design at 25 stories:

706 Mission rendered at roughly 25 Stories

The 706 Mission Scoop: Design, Details And Timing For Museum Tower [SocketSite]
Plaza could suffer if tower climbs high [SFGate]
Sue Hestor Seeks To Stop Transit Center Tower Development Short [SocketSite]
Sneak Peek: 706 Mission Tower Design And Aronson Building Rehab [SocketSite]
San Francisco Property Tax Rate Set To Increase 0.67 Percent [SocketSite]

First Published: August 28, 2012 12:15 PM

Comments from "Plugged In" Readers

I've been reading Kings columns for years now, and this is a consistent refrain from him.

With 201 folsom, he wanted the towers cut in half. Millenium tower - cut in half. Who cares what a one track broken record has to say?

Posted by: Joe at August 28, 2012 12:54 PM

King is way off base suggesting that the height be cut to twenty-five stories, but here's the thing: what was going through the minds of the developers when they saw that the site was zoned for 400-feet AND it was in a location that was shadow-constrained AND THEN they decided to propose a 550-foot tower that would cast more shadows than the shadow budget allowed for ANYWAY?

Businesspeople should be pretty good at doing due diligence. Even if you're pro-density and pro-development, you have to at least try to understand the rules.

They can't honestly believe that they'll show up at a planning commission meeting, recite the financial impacts along the lines of what the ss editor posted in the final two 'graphs above, and expect that everyone will roll over and approve the project anyway, can they?

And if they get rejected, are they going to join the chorus of developers whining about The City's "anti-density" zoning policies when the fault is really their own?

Posted by: Brahma (incensed renter) at August 28, 2012 1:16 PM

The problem is the rigid SF zoning that always yields the same boxy profile for these projects (give or take a party hat or two).

If planning held tight to FAR and loosened envelope controls, you'd get more responsive architecture that still meets development pro-formas.

On this site, that could mean a spikey 700' tower with half the girth, rising out of a lower element that sets-back as King suggests.

Posted by: K at August 28, 2012 1:24 PM

Two things I learned from this post:

1. All future development is constrained to less than a 0.22% shadow impact on Union Square

2. We have a new unit of measurement: shadow square foot per hour

The 0.22% shadow constraint on Union Square seems really really limiting, especially since it is doubtful that any human could perceive a difference that small.

What if developers were able to mitigate their shadow impact by creating new parks on their roofs?

Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at August 28, 2012 1:32 PM

"The proposed project would not cast net new shadow on Union Square after 9:30 AM on any day during the year."

Seriously, development is being restricted because of shadows in a shopping area before most shops have even opened?

Posted by: Rillion at August 28, 2012 1:37 PM

King using the "what if we're wrong card" is a tired comment and simply a way to reject every new project and want it smaller and lower. He is known for that.

We need a bolder critic or two to be more open minded.

Posted by: futurist at August 28, 2012 2:18 PM

I think when you start playing the "potential revenue" game, you are being a bit silly. We COULD put towers on every block in the city, and increase revenue, but that is me just being silly now.

King's article makes it clear that he is also concerned about shadows on the plaza next to the building, a plaza which enjoys none of the zoning protections given to Union Square. Also, by proposing a much shorter tower, he is clearly trying to move the conversation in the direction of a compromise. Furthermore, I agree with the comment above by Brahma, who points out that the developer-proposed height would require an exemption from rules they were perfectly aware of going in. Why should developers be rewarded for behavior that would get an individual homeowner summarily rejected?

We establish zoning and planning processes because as a city it has been decided that there are certain qualities of life that residents wish to preserve. While this may place constraints on what a property owner may do with their plot, it is inconceivable to me that at this point that is not an accepted part of doing business in San Francisco, home of the NIMBY. And, to draw a distinction between this project and say, 8 Washington, in this instance we have a developer that is attempting to contravene the will of voters and city planning officials in the name of "progress," asking for special treatment and undue consideration in their quest to maximize profit. I am unmoved by any argument in defense of that deal.

Posted by: Adam at August 28, 2012 2:31 PM

I think towers mostly should be higher, and don't agree with King's proposal. But why not limit this building to the 400 feet allowed by its zoning?

Posted by: Dan at August 28, 2012 2:55 PM

what was going through the minds of the developers when they saw that the site was zoned for 400-feet AND it was in a location that was shadow-constrained AND THEN they decided to propose a 550-foot tower that would cast more shadows than the shadow budget allowed for ANYWAY?

We all know that building allowances are SERVERELY constrained in this city, so why wouldn't the developer at least try? If they're successful, then they capture the value of the upzone, where the previous owner of the land probably already captured the value of the previous upzone to 400 ft by selling the land at top dollar for that height.

I don't blame anyone for at least trying to push the envelope a bit. We'd get around this by increasing zoning everywhere, so that the incentive wasn't out there for every person to try to build to or above the allowable capacity.

Posted by: anon at August 28, 2012 3:18 PM

"They can't honestly believe that they'll show up at a planning commission meeting, recite the financial impacts along the lines of what the ss editor posted in the final two 'graphs above, and expect that everyone will roll over and approve the project anyway, can they?"

That's what has happened with the Warriors arena. The pier 30-32 site is zoned to 40' and all of a sudden the city is bending over to give 125'

Zoning in SF is esentially meaningless because deep pockets can break any zoning limits.

Posted by: anon at August 28, 2012 3:21 PM

UPDATE: While we're well aware Mr. King isn't suggesting the current design simply be shrunk, an approximation of how the site would look with the current design at roughly 25 stories has been added above.

Posted by: SocketSite at August 28, 2012 3:24 PM

Adam & Brahma:

The developer here is agreeing to house the Mexican Museum and restore the adjacent landmark Aronson building - the former requiring the loss of sellable/rentable volume. Most cities grant zoning envelope bonuses to encourage this kind of civic improvement. That's why the added height is a reasonable and politically supportable proposition.

This project was conceived within a redevelopment zone when the agencies were still around and goes back to the late 80's with a tower design by Arquitectonica. As such, I'm sure the deal making here is more complex than any of us know.

Posted by: rubber_chicken at August 28, 2012 3:28 PM

This looks to me like it is replacing a park. And that I find a shame since SF needs open space and parks for its existing citizens more than additional high $$ density.

Is it on the foot print of the small park along Mission Street?

[Editor’s Note: No, it’s not: the tower site (labeled "Agency Parcel").]

Posted by: contrarian at August 28, 2012 3:31 PM

Looks to me it will occupy about 25% of the current open space between the Aranson Building and the Church.

Again a loss of valuable open space. Where ever it is it will tend to close in any remaining open space inclding the park across the street at Moscone.

I know, I know, increased density is good for all of us.

Posted by: contrarian at August 28, 2012 3:49 PM

It will not lose any open space. The lot is now surrounded by painted plywood at the entrance to the Jessie Square garage. You can easily see the available space if you go there. It's the smallish lot with a fence around it NEXT TO the plaza.

John King should use Madison Square Park in Manhattan as his model when he thinks about how open space can interact with tall buildings. It's not a question of threatening or overpowering, it's a dynamic coexistence.

Posted by: James at August 28, 2012 4:02 PM

So we agree, about 25% of the "open space" will disappear. The "open space" is not part of the park but it does provide an additional break in the neck bending mutiple story expanses along the north side of Mission Street. (exaggeration)

If I want Manhattan, I will go east young man, go east.

Posted by: contrarian at August 28, 2012 4:23 PM

I see. The air itself is open space. In that case, simply incline your neck a bit further up: there's still miles of open space left above all those rooftops...

Posted by: James at August 28, 2012 4:43 PM

thank you, exactly my point. At what price--Demsity?

Posted by: contrarian at August 28, 2012 5:22 PM

No way! King wants a proposed building to be shorter? Will wonders never cease?

Posted by: Turin at August 28, 2012 5:28 PM

Is more crowding in our destiny? Or is it density?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J8bRciuMLqQ

Posted by: jlasf at August 28, 2012 5:36 PM

At what price

Um, zero? I don't find space that I can't use to be "open", but maybe that's just me. Much rather any unusable space to have a building on it, at least then I might be able to use the building.

Posted by: anon at August 28, 2012 5:44 PM

I am for a taller tower BUT building more towers will not help San Francisco become a more pleasant city to live in because San Francisco is part of a multiple center urban region. The southern city neighborhoods have been transformed because they have been able to take advantage of proximity to other job/commerce centers.

What we are able to sell to S.F. homebuyers is unique neighborhoods of medium density, good historic and architectural character, and not so crowded that they become unfriendly. People are not falling over eachother to live on Rincon Hill but they are standing in line to move into the remaining neighborhoods with distinct atmosphere we have left.

(Just to repeat, a taller tower at that location is appropriate)

Posted by: anotherview at August 28, 2012 5:47 PM

There's no real logic is lowering the height of this proposed building when others immediately around it are 40-42 stories tall. They also cast shadows.

And, IMO, this whole shadow fear is overblown. Shadows constantly move. Trees cause shadows too. Should we cut all trees down that shade a park?

NYC has thousands of high buildings that shade parks and open spaces at some time during the day, during all seasons. That doesn't make NYC unlivable.

Posted by: futurist at August 28, 2012 6:38 PM

excuse my spelling!
But on point, anon, it sounds like you would have a tenement city, with no breathing, room much less enjoyable or "vast" vistas for us plebes.

And if you and the realtors here want to have SF to be a greater part of (or center of ) a multiple center urban region, a lot of historic transfers from NYC, Houston, Chicago and even Hong Kong, Tokyo etc, will not be happy and will not support such activites and will even fight (ala Sue Hestor) the mindless densification of SF.

Posted by: contrarian at August 28, 2012 7:35 PM

Us plebes can enjoy the view of the city from Twin Peaks-- still the highest spot in town-- with all the tall expensive buildings downtown enhancing the view.

Posted by: James at August 28, 2012 8:30 PM

Just so we're clear, this eyesore is what currently occupies the site.

Build it.

Posted by: 1965 at August 28, 2012 8:46 PM

A tenement city? Because I'm for filling in a fenced off private lot with million dollar condos? Mmmm, ok.

Posted by: anon at August 28, 2012 8:48 PM

People are not falling over eachother to live on Rincon Hill but they are standing in line to move into the remaining neighborhoods with distinct atmosphere we have left.

Rincon Hill housing is more expensive than 99% of the housing in the country, so yes, people are standing in line to move there. Lobster isn't a cheap meal just because caviar costs more...

Posted by: anon at August 28, 2012 8:54 PM

So, do tall buildings that cast shadows on parks get any offsetting credit for light bounced back into parks? This may sound like a facetious comment, but it's semi-serious. A building that shades a park in the morning could easily bounce some pretty bright light back into that same park later in the day.

Posted by: Dan Clark at August 28, 2012 11:22 PM

is thinner and taller an alternative?

Posted by: hajaxavier at August 29, 2012 11:35 AM

^
Not unless it's a problem:
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/02/arts/design/renzo-pianos-nasher-museum-in-dallas-has-sunburn-problem.html?pagewanted=all

But great question. They should allow mirrors to reflect sun back into the parks as a mitigating measure.

Posted by: rubber_chicken at August 29, 2012 12:13 PM

As for "credit for light bounced back into parks" that idea does have merit though computing the "bounce credit" is a lot more complex than the current analysis used calculate shadow impact. You have to take into account multiple "apparent sources", how the angle of reflection affects the amount of light reflected (which changes over time !), and of course the basic reflective properties of the building's surface.

And I'd imagine that there will be environmental objections as well that the unnaturally timed and directed light is not as "good" as natural sunlight. Some plants (SF's #1 cash crop included) will even grow differently if you monkey with the light sources and timing.

Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at August 29, 2012 12:54 PM

I'm surprised at the level of criticism of John King. I have always appreciated his thoughtful analysis (much more than the take no prisoners approach of the development crazed commenters). I think it is helpful and important to have someone look at the city over the course of many years and provide analysis. We should be thoughtful about how we want SF to look in the future (God knows we haven't been good at it so far). I wouldn't mind a shorter building at all. We need the sun. The fact the building would shade the park in the morning, as compared to other times, is more important since anyone waiting for shops to open would appreciate a bit of sun rather than cold shaded wind...

Posted by: 4oceans at August 29, 2012 1:31 PM

Because cutting the building in half is really taking into account the future of SF and not actually just projecting your own personal desires onto the idea for the future.
Maybe we should just stop all building in SF so the future populations can bask in the sun and not feel cold shaded wind. The future trillionaires who will be able to afford to be in SF at all because long ago people decided that the best way to deal with the future was prevent any change whatsoever

Posted by: Bob at August 29, 2012 2:39 PM

Not to defend John King and the "but what if they’re wrong" ploy, but ALL proposals about new buildings really are projecting the proposer's personal desires onto the idea for the future. Same holds true for any public policy proposal regarding urban planning.

One difference is that some proposer's ideas for the future aren't driven primarily by the desire to make a profit by building a new building and selling the resulting improved property (I realize that's probably not the case for 706 Mission St.).

The question is, who's ideas for the future should be adopted? That's what politics is all about, even if the decisions are and should be informed by economics. The Park Shadow Ban was a legitimate use of of democratic political processes in making a decision about quality of life in San Francisco.

Even in the pro-growth faction's favorite place, Manhattan, people pay a premium for places that are not shaded by a nearby tower's shadows.

And there's no need for hyperbole, Proposition K, aka The "Park Shadow Ban" doesn't affect all building even at present because (at least as I understand it), it only applies to shadows over certain parks that existed when the initiative passed, so it doesn't "prevent any change whatsoever". King alluded to this in his column when he mentioned that:

The reason the tower is located so far west is that moving it east would add to the shadows it would cast on Union Square. A voter-approved "sunlight ordinance" from 1984 essentially bans almost any new shade on that plaza…the shadow impact on Jessie Square, by contrast, isn't a legal problem because the plaza didn't exist in the 1980s.

If developers feel that the Park Shadow Ban is an incredible injustice and sin against the tin god of the free market (or the will of "future populations"), they can always pool their money and get a measure placed on a future ballot to repeal it.

Posted by: Brahma (incensed renter) at August 29, 2012 3:39 PM

I think John King is very thoughtful and insightful in his articles, but by "embedding" the very problems created by the "San Francisco" process in his article, he exacerbates the problem.

"This approach would mean no shadows on Union Square. It also would silence the most vocal critics of the tower, speeding up the approval process. And in San Francisco, that might be the most valuable subsidy of all."

It is patently ludicrous that a project that microscopically increases shadows on a park a half mile away and only when the sun is extremely low on the horizon, and only for a few weeks per year, has this regarded as an approval factor.

This would be like someone in San Francisco opposing a building in the Oakland Hills that delays sunrise by a minute. At some point arguments like this need to be rejected so planners can focus on true issues.

Posted by: David at August 30, 2012 12:56 PM

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