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Haight neighbors claim 100 percent affordable housing project at McDonald’s is too tall

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The Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council has voiced concerns about the height of a 100 percent affordable housing development at the site of the McDonald’s restaurant on Stanyan Street. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

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The rent is too damn high, and to correct this, every San Franciscan is clamoring for The City to build affordable housing — and a lot of it. But one pocket of our sleepy little town is drumming up opposition to a plan for affordable housing at the site of the McDonald’s restaurant on Stanyan Street.

The problem? It’s too tall, they say.

The Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council — or HANC, as they’re called — penned a public letter in late December laying out its support for the project, in general, but voiced concern that a 65-foot, 7-story-tall development would “substantially change the character of the area,” due to its “height and bulk.”

For years, the McDonald’s on Haight and Stanyan streets drew complaints as a hub for the “street kids” of the Haight. In a double win, The City acquired the site in a high-profile, $15.5 million deal ushered in by Acting Mayor London Breed, in her role as a city supervisor.

But the letter, penned by HANC Housing and Land Use Chair Rupert Clayton, signals a bumpy road ahead for the affordable housing plan.

“HANC does support maximizing the amount of affordable housing constructed in our neighborhood,” Clayton wrote, “but only where this is appropriately balanced with preserving the neighborhood’s character and environmental quality.”

Two (very) preliminary height options were presented to neighbors by the Mayor’s Office of Housing: one seven stories, the other five. Perhaps paradoxically, Clayton wrote that HANC believes the same amount of housing in a building 65 feet tall can be crammed into a 50-foot building.

The idea that affordable housing should be compromised for the sake of neighborhood character — during a rental crisis, no less — drew ire from Yes in My Backyard founder Laura Clark.

“It’s outrageous that we let neighborhood busybodies chip away at affordable housing,” she told me Monday. “We lose units and make affordable housing more expensive when we allow wealthy, well-connected and obsessive people to abuse a complicated process.”

While Clark’s rebuke may be predictable — she’s a pro-density advocate — even Planning Commissioner Dennis Richards, a staunch progressive, was baffled by HANC’s critique.

“What is ‘neighborhood character’? And what does 10 additional feet do that destroys it?” he asked. “They can’t see how ridiculous it is.”

Richards pointed out that under Senate Bill 35, the California housing bill passed last year that streamlines housing approval processes, affordable housing at the McDonald’s site may not need approval from the Planning Commission at all, removing one of avenue for HANC to push back against the development’s height.

SB 35 dictates that cities that are under-producing housing must skip certain review processes for particular types of development. Since San Francisco woefully under-produces affordable housing, the McDonald’s project will likely sail right past the Planning Commission.

The project is still undergoing an environmental review process, Breed’s office told me. That also may be an avenue for HANC and other neighbors to exert clout to minimize the height. Breed’s office said no specific height has yet been determined for the site.

“What we have heard loud and clear from the neighborhood is they want the city to acquire the McDonald’s site for 100 percent affordable housing, and that is exactly what we are doing,” Breed said in a statement.

But if HANC gets its way, that housing will downgrade from a Big Mac to a Happy Meal.

* * *

A few weeks ago, I wrote about who the Board of Supervisors were rumored to pick as a potential “caretaker” mayor, which drew a lot of ire. Planning Commissioner Myrna Melgar on Facebook skewered the supes for not floating the names of prominent women to lead The City in its time of crisis, for instance.

That rumored list included former mayors Art Agnos and Willie Brown, as well as former Assemblymember Tom Ammiano.

But Ammiano at least got a kick out of it. He texted me later, and admittedly I got a bit excited, thinking I had a scoop. I shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up.

“Rumor true — I am pregnant,” Ammiano wrote.

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at joe@sfexaminer.com, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at facebook.com/FitztheReporter.

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