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City planners green light housing project for students, faculty at Conservatory of Music

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A new structure to house students and faculty at the Conservatory of Music will rise at the sites of two adjacent buildings at 200 Van Ness Ave. and 214 Van Ness Ave. after the project was approved by the Planning Commission on Thursday. (Sarahbeth Maney/Special to S.F. Examiner)

A 12-story building that will provide housing, educational and performance spaces to music students in the Civic Center neighborhood was approved with a unanimous vote by the San Francisco Planning Commission on Thursday.

The project is slated to rise in place of two adjacent buildings: a three-story residential building at 200 Van Ness Ave. that contains 27 rent-controlled apartments, and a vacant office building at 214 Van Ness Ave. that formerly housed the Lighthouse for the Blind.

Both will be demolished if the project is approved by the Board of Supervisors, which is expected to take up the proposal in March.

SEE RELATED: Revised plans for music student housing head to Planning Commission

The project will provide 420 units of housing for students of the nearby Conservatory of Music, at 50 Oak St., as well as three residential units reserved for music school faculty and 27 replacement units for rent-controlled apartments currently at 200-214 Van Ness Ave.

On Thursday, the commission voted to adopt a General Plan amendment that will allow the music school to build up to 120 feet in an area zoned for a height limit of 96 feet, as well as a host of other items that required approval for the project to move forward.

P.J. Johnston, a spokesperson for the project, called Thursday’s vote “an important step in the process.”

The music school bought the property in 2014 and has since worked with community stakeholders, city leaders and the current tenants of 200 Van Ness Ave., who face temporary displacement, to shape the project’s plans.

Faced with no opposition at Thursday’s hearing, Commissioner Kathrin Moore referred to the proposal as a “skillfully put together project on all levels.”

“I have hardly seen anything come through that quickly — we have tenants who are supportive, and we have no opposition,” Moore said.

At the core of the project’s proposal is a “tenant protection” package that promises modernized, rent-controlled replacement units inside of the proposed music dorm to some 60 tenants at 200 Van Ness Ave.

Construction is expected to last some two years, during which the current tenants will be temporarily moved into a nearby building at 150 Van Ness Ave. at their same rents.

The music school will foot the tenant’s relocation costs and pay to move the displaced tenants back into the replacement apartments — which are also subject to rent control — once construction is completed.

Randy Wong, a four-year tenant of 200 Van Ness Ave, said that residents were treated with “general respect” by the Conservatory’s staff throughout the process.

“I think this project will do right by the residents,” he said.

Advocates working with the tenants also voiced their approval, but urged the Commission to demand transparency and clear communication from the developers should the project’s construction exceed the expected timeline.

Moore said that the developer’s efforts to accommodate the current tenants of the site by guaranteeing new rent-controlled units could set an example for future housing developments in The City.

“If there is anything we can learn from this experience it is applying that at other places as well,” she said.

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