May 31, 2013

Four Seasons' Homeowners Drop The Dreaded "B" Word

706%20mission%202013%20Rendering%202.jpg

With San Francisco’s Planning Commission having cleared the way for Millennium Partners' proposed 706 Mission Street condo tower and Mexican Museum to rise up to 510 feet, 40 feet fewer than originally proposed, a group of homeowners from the adjacent Four Seasons Residences are preparing a ballot measure in an attempt to either block or significantly shorten the proposed building.

According to the San Francisco Business Times, the ballot measure being drafted by "The Friends of Yerba Buena" would attempt to strengthen the existing Proposition K which limits the casting of net new shadows on city parks but currently allows city commissions leeway in deciding whether or not a new building’s shadows should be allowed.

The proposed 706 Mission Street tower would cast a bit of new morning shadow upon San Francisco’s Union Square, but the City’s Recreation and Park Commission agreed to exempt the tower from the restrictions of Proposition K, ruling that the impact of the new shadows would not be adverse to the use of the park.

Taking exception to accusations that they're simply trying to protect their views, the group of homeowners claim not to be opposed to the new tower, simply to its impact on Union Square, and would apparently support the tower if it only rose to 351 feet in height.

The Four Seasons is 430 feet tall (click image below to enlarge):

Do keep in mind that the 706 Mission Street site is currently zoned for up to 400 feet but the Planning Commission is recommending an up-zoning for the parcel and that a strengthening of Proposition K to disallow any new shadowing of a park, regardless of severity, would apply to any new development in the city, not simply 706 Mission.

First Published: May 31, 2013 9:30 AM

Comments from "Plugged In" Readers

I can't wait to hear the nonsense the paid signature collectors will be spewing for the "The Friends of Yerba Buena" ballet initiative. Think of the children who need might never see the sun otherwise if we allow this monstrosity! You care about the children don't you?

Posted by: Zig at May 31, 2013 9:44 AM

This is ridiculous. Another small group of self-entitled wealthy people taking advantage of the system to save their views. And they're going to hide their true motive behind some BS "save the parks from evil shadows" ballot measure that your average ignorant voter will probably jump right behind, just like the 8 Washington NIMBYs hid their motives behind the the "no wall on the waterfront" BS. If what they really cared about was shadows, then I guess the four seasons should also have 100 feet removed from it.

Posted by: cbf at May 31, 2013 9:47 AM

The death of the ballot initiative process cannot come soon enough.

Posted by: OP at May 31, 2013 9:55 AM

Horrible. But I wonder if, as we crawl out of a difficult recession, people in SF will be that sympathetic to these self-serving, anti-growth initiatives (including the waterfront bs)? It would be terrific if these stupid initiatives were soundly defeated.

Posted by: Snark17 at May 31, 2013 10:09 AM

I wonder what you can see at 352'.

Posted by: eugh at May 31, 2013 10:09 AM

It is because of things like this that I never sign ballot init's.

Posted by: Rillion at May 31, 2013 10:35 AM

Eventually we'll have to vote on every new construction.

Posted by: James at May 31, 2013 10:38 AM

This is a terrible development and really dangerous. This kind of ballot box engineering of the shadows ordinance could end up halting housing and office development in a huge part of the city - if you can't throw a shadow on a corner of a park between 7:45AM and 8:15AM. If you think rents/prices are high now, just wait!

Posted by: Mike at May 31, 2013 10:48 AM

No Wall on Mission?

I wish there were some way to retaliate against the people or groups bringing these harmful, frivolous ballot measures.

Is there?

Posted by: mdreaming at May 31, 2013 10:54 AM

The solution to this problem is obvious. Developers should conform to the existing zoning and not ask for exceptions particularly height. This applies to 8 Washington, the Warriors development at pier 30 and the proposed 75 Folsom condos.

Posted by: d_b at May 31, 2013 11:05 AM

Don't like the thought of another ballot initiative but I do think this building is way too tall.

Posted by: Willow at May 31, 2013 11:08 AM

This is going to be too much for me to handle. I may have to stop following building developments.

It just wouldn't shock me at all for this to get on the ballot, hell I know people who love to sign anything even remotely anti business and pro people. Somehow they will be among the names, not knowing anything about the facts.

Posted by: Sam at May 31, 2013 11:14 AM

Totally agree. If the developers stick with the heights that the property is zoned they could bypass these initiatives. It seems that every new development is proposing an exception to the zoned limits. Unfortunately the ballot measure is the only way the people have a voice in this process.

Posted by: Grace at May 31, 2013 11:30 AM

This is getting so ridiculous.

Posted by: JWS at May 31, 2013 11:42 AM

351' won't shadow Union Square? So what about all of the others in the above picture (excepting the St. Regis because it must be 133'further away). This tactic is so disgusting. Its the :I've got mine, you can't have yours" mentality. The building design is rather hideous so we should have a ballot initiative about the design.

Posted by: marvinsnephew at May 31, 2013 11:46 AM

False: "Unfortunately the ballot measure is the only way the people have a voice in this process."

The reason there is an opportunity to deviate from the zoning is because at the time an area is zoned, decision makers don't have enough information about every single parcel to know if there might be conditions where deviating from the requirements might be necessary or desirable. Hence, when a project requests a variance from the zoning, there is a public process where the desired change is vetted and analyzed. People had the opportunity to voice their concerns during that public process. Our elected officials and appointed professionals, who are responsible for looking at how a project with a wider citywide or neighborhood-wide lens, can hear those concerns and make an inform decision for the public, and not individual, good.

These sorts of ballot measure do not inform or benefit that process because the serve the interests of the few. The wording is complicated; the campaigning is misleading.

Posted by: hugh at May 31, 2013 11:48 AM

This is not about views, but about resale values. As newer units get crowded into this area they compete with sales in existing, slightly dated projects like the Four Seasons and the St Regis.

Posted by: rocco at May 31, 2013 11:55 AM

I'm sure these snobs would be caught dead in a public park.

Posted by: sf at May 31, 2013 12:26 PM

Wealthy greed and its resources once again take advantage of San Francisco's noble efforts to make the city humane. The Four Seasons residents who raise this issue can suck it. Shall we create a ballot measure to reduce the exisitng structure to accommodate that which they are 'concerned' about?

Posted by: Miah at May 31, 2013 12:52 PM

Hugh,
If you think the city can make a balanced decision on exceptions to zoned height limits, think again. The city is all about increasing tax revenues and doesn't care at all about what neighbors and the rest of the city thinks.

Case and point: 88 Washington, which will be forced to conform to it's zoned heights this fall, all because developers and city officials were getting too greedy. The November ballot will certainly set the tone for (and probably prevent many) future requests for zoning exceptions.

Posted by: anon at May 31, 2013 1:17 PM

I thought that Prop K only applied to parks under the control of Rec & Park.

YBG is not under the control of Rec & Park it's under the old SF Redevelopment agency jurisdiction...at least that's what I thought.

Same reason Rincon park on the waterfront found it's self in the shadows of the infinity towers and next the new 1000 foot tower at TransBay.

Same owners. SFRDA and Port in the case of Rincon

Posted by: confused at May 31, 2013 2:58 PM

cbf wrote:

This is ridiculous. Another small group of self-entitled wealthy people taking advantage of the system to save their views. And they're going to hide their true motive behind some BS…ballot measure…

I may disagree with "The Friends of Yerba Buena", but I don't think their tactics are ridiculous. The fact that they are wealthy people just ensures that the conflict will be resolved in a high-profile manner (such as a ballot measure).

I'm going to just assume for the sake of argument that protection of views is the real underlying issue here.

The people in this thread throwing around the term NIMBY with wild abandon should really consider the economics issues in addition to the political ones.

The incumbent homeowners at The Four Seasons Residences paid a lot of money for their homes, and while we all agree that views are not protected by law, the fact is that a large part of the premium people pay for high floors in Co-ops and Condo buildings is because of the views.

Everyone on socketsite can probably recall at least a few ads for different S.F. co-ops or condos that emphasized the views available from the unit. Real Estate agents in this city go out of their way to mention them in their marketing materials.

Yes, we can be fairly sure, in the absence of an appropriate easement, that there was no section in the sales contract(s) of Four Seasons owners guaranteeing the views would remain unblocked for the time they owned their units. Nevertheless, the premium paid for those views constitute real money, and losing them involves a real loss of utility and a subsequent loss of resale value after said views are impaired.

Once you understand that, isn't it understandable that the incumbent owners would fight like a cornered wolverine when their views are threatened? I'm not defending it on the merits, I can't and probably never will identify with the Four Seasons owners; I'm just saying it's understandable once you consider the economics.

The owners at the Four Seasons bought their units and the views were a tacit part of the sale. Allowing a large building to be built nearby would limit, cast into shadow or extinguish those views, and the incumbent owners aren't being compensated for their loss of utility.

The incumbent owners at the Four Seasons and Millennium Partners have inherently opposed economic interests, and charging one side with NIMBYism just doesn't change that fact.

Posted by: Brahma (incensed renter) at May 31, 2013 3:03 PM

The irony here is that the Four Seasons building was actually built/developed by Millennium Partners back in 2000...and now the hand that fed has come back to bite.

I would be surprised if the Four Seasons building itself doers not cast the same (if not more) shadows on Union Square - considering it is a similar height a bit closer to Union Square.

Posted by: ejay at May 31, 2013 3:26 PM

@Brahma

Your entire post seems to be facially obvious, and adds nothing to the discussion.

Of course they want to protect their views, good job...

Posted by: Bob at May 31, 2013 3:35 PM

Bob: if were facially obvious, then why are people upthread using terms like "nonsense" (from Zig), "ridiculous" (from cbf and JWS), "Horrible' (from Snark17), "disgusting" (from marvinsnephew), and so on?

The point I should have written out explicitly was this: when an incumbent homeowner values their threatened views (because of the utility derived from it) at a dollar amount which is greater than than the amount it costs to mount a ballot initiative and has the financial means to do so, then everybody should expect to have a ballot initiative on the project that threatens said views.

That is, no one should be surprised or shocked that well-heeled people take advantage of the asset protection tools available to them.

I personally dislike uses of the catch phrase "don't hate the player, hate the game", but it gets invoked on socketsite a bit and it applies to situations like this and 8 Washington ballot initiative as well.

Posted by: Brahma (incensed renter) at May 31, 2013 4:15 PM

folks, chill out. Hate the game, not the players

Posted by: asiagoSF at May 31, 2013 4:23 PM

Brahma: You are stating the obvious. No real discussion needed on the points you raise.

Posted by: Willow at May 31, 2013 4:25 PM

Agree with Brahma. It is not just a San Francisco fetish for property owners to fight to preserve their views, and therefore their property values. You see the same things take place in London and N.Y.C. I saw it when I designed a residence on the waterfront in Laguna Beach that would have originally blocked homeowner's views of the water from the hillside above. The city worked out a compromise where I was able to expand the home closer to the sand and add a basement in exchange for not building a second story above street level that would have blocked views.

Posted by: AnonArch at May 31, 2013 4:32 PM

It's patently obvious people will do anything they can to protect their views. What they don't have protection from is to be called out on their bulls*&t when they do it under the guise of protecting Union Square from 30 minutes of shadows in a 365 day year.

Posted by: Fishchum at May 31, 2013 4:41 PM

This building scheme was designed to provide a home for the Mexican Museum which could not raise the funds for a building on this site alone. In order to provide this public benefit and still make a reasonable profit, the developer had to propose a very tall building. Now if the Four Season Residents would cough up $20m for the Museum, they wouldn't have to have the building. However, I have not heard any offers.

Posted by: MSTBLD at May 31, 2013 5:09 PM

How about the architect(s) do a rendering from the Four Seasons (pick 3-4 different floors for perspective) of views before and after the tower is built? And then publish it publicly.

Maybe we should get an idea of what the views will be before jumping to conclusions?

Posted by: Can't think of cool name at May 31, 2013 5:34 PM

On the one hand it's a shame these rich home owners didn't have enough money for a lawyer to tell them that their views are not protected, no matter how much they paid for them.

On the other hand, I have to send kudos their way for their obviously deep concern that their early morning dog-walkers continue to have access to those first few rays of morning light as they walk their pooches over at YB. I tell you, the humanity brings tears to my eyes.

Posted by: BobN at May 31, 2013 5:45 PM

Bunmmer to those in the St. Regis and 4 Seasons. I'm crying as I write this. Just because you live on the 50th floor of a building with sweeping views of the Bay does not give you a purchased right to have that view for eternity. Same goes for those living on all the other floors.

Posted by: Mark at May 31, 2013 7:18 PM

Those saying that this would be prevented if developers stuck to zoned heights, um, did you read the lead of this story? The zoned height limit allowed is 400' - the ballot initiative would only allow up to 351', so how would they avoid anything?

Posted by: anon at May 31, 2013 7:35 PM

"Case and point [sic]: 88 [sic] Washington, which will be forced to conform to it's [sic] zoned heights this fall, all because developers and city officials were getting too greedy."

I was under the impression that 8 Washington *did* conform to existing height limits, but as a compromise measure the city planners forced the developer to adopt the step-up and step-down approach.

But let's not let facts get in the way of a good rant.

Posted by: NJ at May 31, 2013 7:46 PM

No, what's rich is when the tenants in this NEW building sue the NEXT building for blocking THEIR views. Proper planning plans for preservation of quality of life. We just have a lousy planning department.

Posted by: egg_cream_of_OCD at May 31, 2013 7:46 PM

Brahma, thanks for your thoughtful and relevant comments. This is the nature of living in a city. Or in a town... or anywhere humans live nearby and have conflicting interests.

In my neighborhood (Potrero) there is a big fight over a Kaiser clinic which is completely within zoning requirements and otherwise consistent with the plans for the area's development. Nevertheless, everyone whose views will be blocked (or whose free parking opportunities will be reduced) are fighting bitterly, because the cost of doing so is less than the property value they stand to lose. This is of course couched as an effort to "save" Potrero Hill (literally the name of the organization), but the motives are obvious.

This kind of thing will always be a part of real estate in SF.

Posted by: Po Hill Jeff at June 1, 2013 9:21 AM

Well I can't figure out if the "thanks for your thoughtful and relevant comments" remark was sarcastic or not, and I also can't decide what "this is the nature of living in a city. Or in a town…or anywhere humans live nearby and have conflicting interests" was in response to. Was it in response to the phenomenon of the affluent fighting new development when their interests are being threatened?

I'm going to assume that "this is the nature of living in a city…" refers to the inevitability of having one's views from a high-rise condo or co-op unit blocked by a subsequent building development, since that's a common sentiment on socketsite, where it seems most commenters take the side of the developer and their desire to make money on new projects when it comes into conflict with the interests of incumbent homeowners (The Dreaded "NIMBYs") who have paid a premium for their high-floor views. And the implicit claim that incumbent homeowners should "just get over it" and not take any legal action to impede new construction, since as we all know, views are not protected in the absence of a relevant easement.

If that's the case, well, it may seem obvious to Willow and Bob, et. al., but I see this as a pretty clear failure of behavioral economics on the part of buyers. Again, assuming that everybody just "knows" that life in a city involves eventually having your views blocked.

The people making decisions about what to do with that portion of their household income allocated to high-end real estate are doing so in a repeatedly irrational way—the're paying lots of money for high floors with views, and NOT taking into account that another building will probably be built in the near future that blocks those views, and hence drastically reduces the value of the asset or at least the marginal value of the views.

Put another way, condo and co-op buyers are systematically overpaying for, and hence the market is mispricing, a very expensive asset and allowing high-rise developers to basically rip buyers off for the marginal contribution that the views add to the overall price of the property. What a racket!

Imagine a piece of home electronics where a key feature that a buyer pays a premium for just breaks and stops working a random amount of time following the purchase. The buyer contacts the seller and asks why the feature no longer works. And the seller says "Sorry, that's just the nature of that piece of equipment!" and refuses to offer any consideration for the now disabled functionality.

The problem, of course, is that no one (except in the case where the developer is actively building another, nearby tower) can know in advance when a view-impeding tower will be built and by how much it will disrupt one's views, so it's difficult to determine the appropriate discount. But based on the way that high-floor luxe condos with premium-priced views are coming onto and flying off of the market, I'd argue that no discount is being applied at all, of it one is, it's not anywhere in the ballpark of what it should be.

Posted by: Brahma (incensed renter) at June 2, 2013 7:17 PM

Brahma, just to clarify, I agree with you 100%.

Your added point about the premium for view is an interesting one... maybe it's a smarter investment to buy just a bit down from the top floor, in a unit whose views are already obstructed but are unlikely to become more so.

Posted by: Po Hill Jeff at June 2, 2013 8:17 PM

I got what is probably a push poll call today regarding this building.

It started with something about shadows on parks from 706 mission, then I interrupted and declined to continue.

Posted by: Jake at July 15, 2013 2:50 PM

The whole parks and shadows thing is ridiculous and laughable. By the same logic, all trees in parks should be chopped down since they too cast shadows. San Francisco is blessed with many very smart people. It's too bad there are so few with any common sense whatsoever.

Posted by: Jddar at July 15, 2013 3:33 PM

UPDATE: An Unfriendly Ultimatum "So The Sun Can Shine" In San Francisco.

And with respect to Jake's comment above, "The group recently bankrolled a David Binder poll showing that 55 percent of San Francisco voters approve a strengthened park shadow ban, and 60 percent would back an ordinance requiring a citywide vote for any project over 40 feet that would cast a shadow on a city park."

No word on how Jake's call was counted.

Posted by: SocketSite at July 17, 2013 5:25 PM

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