Approval of high-rise at 75 Howard St. continues SF skyline transformation

A rendering of San Francisco shows the newly approved high-rise building at 75 Howard St. as well as other proposed projects that could transform The City's skyline. (Courtesy Steelblue)

A new high-rise building will soon adorn San Francisco’s waterfront.

After more than four years of discussions and multiple revisions, the Planning Commission on Thursday approved a project to transform an eight-story parking garage into a 20-story, 220-foot-tall mixed-use building in the South of Market neighborhood near The Embarcadero.

After about an hour of public comment, the commission unanimously voted to certify its final environmental impact report and voted 5-1 in favor of authorizations to greenlight the project, which includes a 10 percent upgrade to the height limit.

Despite the increase, project spokesman Alex Clemens said the buildings to the north, west and south are all taller than what was proposed at 75 Howard St.

Commission Vice President Cindy Wu was the dissenting vote, and Commissioner Kathrin Moore recused herself because of a conflict of interest.

The project at 75 Howard St. includes 133 residential units and 5,824 square feet of retail space, as well as 100 off-street parking spaces and 123 bicycle parking spaces.

The project is the first luxury high-rise to seek approval along The City’s waterfront since 8 Washington, a contentious development that spawned political opposition and, ultimately, a new law requiring voter approval for properties that would exceed the height limit along the waterfront.

However, the development at 75 Howard St. will not go before voters because it is on private property. Proposition B, the waterfront-heights measure, only applies to property within the Port of San Francisco’s jurisdiction.

While most commissioners announced their support for the project, Commissioner Michael Antonini said that hindering the building of market-rate housing will not stop people from moving to The City.

“Wealthy people want to live in San Francisco … and they’re going to compete with other people for existing housing, or you’re going to build these units for people who can afford to live in them,” Antonini said.

“Adding to the supply is only going to help things,” he said, adding, “It may not be the whole solution.”

Commissioner Dennis Richards noted that any shadow cast by the building on nearby Rincon Park would be minimal, which developers touted in a recent shadow study at the meeting. Opponents had argued that the project would darken parts of the waterfront.

“Looking at the shadow study … I don’t think its that significant,” Richards said.

Speakers who used about an hour of public comment offered support and opposition to the project. Both sides emphasized the need for more below-market-rate housing in The City, with supporters touting the more than $9 million the project will provide for such efforts and opponents citing a lack of below-market-rate homes at the 75 Howard St. property itself.

“It would be wonderful if those who need affordable housing could also live within a view of the water,” said Saul Rockman with the SoMa Action Committee.

Tim Colen, executive director of the Housing Action Coalition, urged the commission to support the project, which he noted has seen numerous revisions including lowering its height from 31 stories to 20.

“This project has been through the ringer,” Colen said.

But despite the project’s approval, opponents say the fight to block luxury development along the waterfront is not over.

“This is just the first skirmish in what will be a long battle over whether an uber-luxury condo tower should block this important part of San Francisco’s waterfront,” Jon Golinger, co-chair of the No Wall on the Waterfront coalition that pushed for the passage of the waterfront heights measure, wrote in an email to the Examiner after the vote.

Golinger also helped orchestrate opposition to 8 Washington, another luxury residential development along the waterfront that was ultimately rejected by voters after it was approved by The City.

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