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Conservatory of Music development music to supervisors’ ears

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An apartment building on 200 Van Ness Ave. is set to be replaced with student housing for the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. (Sarahbeth Maney/Special to S.F. Examiner)

The San Francisco Conservatory of Music hit all the right notes at a Board of Supervisors committee hearing Monday for a 12-story student housing project on Van Ness Avenue.

The project, which is expected to take about two years to complete, will rise from 214 Van Ness Ave. and 200 Van Ness Ave., sites the nonprofit school purchased in 2014. It was approved unanimously by the board’s Land Use and Transportation Committee.

The project will house 420 conservatory students, which means they won’t be searching for housing on the open market. They will also be able to walk to the conservatory’s campus at 50 Oak St.

“We know that student housing and the construction of student housing is an incredible need, particularly in this housing crisis,” said Supervisor Jane Kim, who represents the site of the development.

The project, which include performance space, adds to the cultural resources of the Civic Center area, which includes the San Francisco Symphony, Opera and Ballet and a planned San Francisco School of the Arts.

One of the biggest challenges for the proposal was that it would demolish rent controlled apartments and displace long-term tenants living at the 27-unit 200 Van Ness Ave. building. There are 23 households currently in the building.

“When the project sponsor first came to my office I was very skeptical about any project that would demolish rent-controlled units,” Kim recalled. “Once we demolish rent controlled housing it never comes back.”

But Kim said the deal worked out is a praiseworthy outcome. The conservatory will relocate the existing tenants to temporary units master leased by the school at 150 Van Ness until the project is complete, when they will have the right to move back to the new building into units covered by rent control laws.

Tenants said they were scared of becoming homeless when they found out their building would be demolished, but banded together to make sure they could preserve their community. Still, a handful of of those at Monday’s hearing continued to express worries about their protections.

Kim sought to allay their lingering concerns. In a series of questions, she clarified that if construction takes longer than expected, the displaced tenants would remain living at 150 Van Ness Ave. at their current rent for as long as the construction takes. The units would remain covered by rent control laws as part of the agreement between the conservatory and The City.

“We will be your protection to assure the project sponsor keeps to their word. That agreement is what this board is voting to approve,” Kim told the tenants.

Supervisor Katy Tang, who noted she was a former flautist, said, “It’s going to be a gem in our city.”

David Stull, president of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, said that “the conservatory itself is excited about this new building.” He noted that “there will be 600 performances a year. Of those performances nine out of 10 are free and open to the public.”

He highlighted some design features, such as the transparent lower floors. “You come to the corner of Hayes and Van Ness, you will be able to see recitals, performances, rehearsals, master classes taking place in there,” Stull said.

Supervisor Ahsha Safai said other schools need to follow the conservatory’s lead. “Our [District 11] is bookended by City College, which has thousands of the students, as well as San Francisco State,” Safai said. “I can tell you firsthand the pressure that is born by residential neighborhoods when it comes to universities that aren’t necessarily thinking about their impact on the housing market.”

The full board will vote April 3 on the project.

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