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Planning Commission approves SOMA housing development despite community concerns over park shadow

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People walk past Victoria Manalo Draves Park on Folsom Street in the South of Market neighborhood. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

UPDATED 5:45 P.M.:

The Planning Commission narrowly approved a SoMa housing development Thursday despite community opposition over the shadow it will cast on a public park.

Advocates in the SoMa neighborhood who work to protect the area’s historic Filipino heritage along with Supervisor Jane Kim had asked the commission to oppose the project, but the body voted 4-3 to approve.

Rich Hillis, chair of the Planning Commission, said San Francisco has a need for more housing.

“We need housing, we need affordable housing,” Hillis said. “Yes there is a shadow impact to this park but to me it doesn’t outweigh the other benefits.” He noted that the project includes 25 percent of the units at below-market rates.

Hillis supported the project along with Milicent Johnson, Joel Koppel and Rodney Fong.

Fong called the project “well done,” but lamented about the continued displacement of San Francisco’s long-time residents.

“I feel for the pressure of San Francisco being squeezed out,” Fong said. “What is sad and difficult is watching a slow deterioration of a neighborhood and culture in San Francisco. This is happening all over.”

David Woo, of the South of Market Community Action Network, said the development is “monstrous” for the area and that “adding housing with new families while simultaneously adding shadows to the only full service park in the South of Market is bad planning.”

Raquel Redondiez, director of SOMA Pilipinas, a cultural heritage district, said that “long before the South of Market became the hot new neighborhood” the Filipino community pushed for the creation of the park.

“This issue is a matter of equity for a community and neighborhood that has long been in the shadows of City Hall,” Redondiez said. “If this development and these shadows were being proposed in a more affluent part of the city, would this be approved?”

Planning Commissioner Kathrin Moore opposed the development along with commissioners Dennis Richards and Myrna Melgar.

“I have never supported any shadow on any park unless a project was 100 percent affordable or served a community purpose larger than private development,” Moore said.

Melgar said that there are “some good things about this project,” but “I do wish there was more consensus with the community.”

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The Recreation and Park Commission voted Thursday to support a 65-foot high development that will cast a shadow on a South of Market neighborhood despite opposition from residents and Supervisor Jane Kim.

The project would demolish the existing structures at 1052-1060 Folsom St. and 190-194 Russ St. to build a seven-story, mixed-use building with 63 housing units, including three studio apartments, 23 one-bedroom units and 37 two-bedroom units.

Kim and SOMA residents argued the development’s shadow would affect residents who use the nearby Victoria Manalo Draves Park in a neighborhood with limited open space.

“We have to have balanced development in the South of Market. We want to build but we also want to make sure that we are protecting the parks that we have worked so hard to activate here in the district,” Kim told the commission. She said community leaders “uniformly oppose” the project.

Despite the opposition, the Recreation and Park Commission voted 4-2 in support of the project, finding the shadow would not significantly impact the 2.53-ace public park.

Commissioners Mark Buell and Allan Low voted in opposition.

“We have heard from the community and those who use park that this shadow would have a significant adverse impact on the park and on them who use it,” Low said.

But Commissioner Kat Anderson said the shadow was limited and was “not a barrier to use.”

“We build homes and then we build parks,” Anderson said. “We don’t use parks to keep people from being in homes.”

Anderson voted to support the development along with commissioners Gloria Bonilla, Tom Harrison, Larry Mazzola.

“The new shadow would fall on the northeastern quarter of the park at the park entry, basketball court, northern children’s play area, lawn areas, and several fixed benches, and would be present between February and October in the late afternoon beginning between 5:15 and 6 p.m., with an average duration of 72 minutes,” according to a city planner report.

Under voter-approved Proposition K, if a development higher than 40 feet casts a shadow upon a public park, the Planning Commission must oppose the project unless it finds the shadow would not be significant — a decision that includes input from the Recreation and Park Commission.

The Planning Commission will vote on the project Thursday afternoon. An approval can be appealed to the Board of Supervisors.

Angelica Cabande, organizational director South of Market Community Action Network, called on the commission in a letter to oppose the development to protect “our very limited open spaces in the South of Market that serve a diverse population of residents, workers, children, youth, families, and seniors.”

She also worried what precedent the vote would set for future projects. “Approval of this project will set further detrimental precedents for future projects that will totally and completely disregard the value of public open space to the most underserved residents who actively use the park.”

Alice Suet Yee Barkley, an attorney with Duane Morris LLP representing the developer Golden Properties LLC, wrote in a letter that “reducing or eliminating the net new shadow from the Project would result in a substantial reduction on the number of affordable housing units provided by the Project.”

“The Project as designed will not individually or collectively, exceed the 1 percent allowable net new shadow budget allowed by Proposition K for the Park and provide substantial public benefits,” the letter said.

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