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SoMa development expected to displace long-standing artist studios

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SPACE360 Studios, an arts space located on 5th Street in San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood, could be replaced by a 127-unit development that is up for approval at the Planning Commission on Thursday. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)
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Plans to build up to eight stories of housing, retail and industrial space in South of Market are expected to replace artist studios on the site, shedding light on the displacement of artists from a city once known for its creative output.

Developer Trammell Crow Residential has plans to demolish the nearly 18,000 square feet of industrial and arts space on Fifth Street between Clara and Shipley streets under a proposal up for approval today at the Planning Commission.

The plans call for ground-floor retail, about 8,000 square feet of industrial space and 127 homes, ranging from studios to three-bedroom units.

The site has been home to a “dying breed” of creative space in the neighborhood since around 2003, artist Skot Kuiper of SPACE360 Studios said in an email. Kuiper at one point ran nearly the entire site as workshops and creative studios, but now shares the lots with a woodworking shop called Wood Thumb.

“I’ve watched hundreds of my extended community lose their homes, theaters, workshops and gathering spaces,” Kuiper said. “Citywide, the loss is incalculable.”

The development is part of a wave of large-scale construction in the neighborhood, like the nearby Mosso Apartments at Folsom and Fifth streets. One-bedroom apartments there are marketed at more than $3,500 a month.

“You’ve got new residents of $2 million condos and people without $2 in their pockets on the same corner, but in totally different universes who never positively interact,” Kuiper said. “We’re the squishy art space in between.”

Kuiper said he is currently negotiating with the Trammell Crow for relocation fees to invest in a new project and is grateful that the developer has allowed him to stay on the site this long. He is hoping to continue leasing the site until demolition permits are issued.

Under last year’s voter-approved Proposition X, developers are required to replace industrial space they remove to preserve arts and manufacturing space in South of Market and the Mission. But there is no guarantee that the same artists can return and no requirement that developers provide relocation assistance.

“The cost, terms and years between displacement and return are likely beyond the means of a small organization like ours at this time,” Kuiper said.

John Elberling, executive director of affordable housing developer TODCO, said he expects the new industrial space to be rented at market-rate.

“What is missing, and was missing from Prop. X, is any required relocation assistance to the existing tenants,” Elberling said in an email. “That needs to be fixed. Trammell Crow should do that for this project and the requirement should be written into the upcoming Central SoMa Plan zoning rules.”

City planners are working on a Central SoMa plan to replace industrial space in the neighborhood with offices and housing. The plan is also under discussion today at the Planning Commission.

Trammell Crow described the site in a statement as a “largely undeveloped and unpaved parking and storage lot and consists of three older low-rise buildings.”

“TCR has worked with the existing tenants regarding the design of the new building and [industrial] space, ensuring it will be useful and appropriate for the businesses that will eventually occupy it,” the statement reads.

Wood Thumb did not respond to requests for comment.

Inclusionary housing
The developer has flip-flopped on whether it will provide affordable housing units on site.

Trammell Crow told the community in meetings last year that the development would include below-market-rate units, which is considered to be the preferred option for developers to satisfy San Francisco’s inclusionary housing rules.

But Trammell Crow told city planners ahead of the meeting today that it would instead pay $11.4 million in inclusionary housing fees, according to planning documents.

Then on Wednesday, Trammell Crow said it had decided that 14.5 percent of the units would be below-market-rate rented at 55 percent of the area-median income or sold at 90 percent of the area-median income.

“In order to encourage occupancy by a more diverse group of residents, TCR is engaging with community members and the City to expand the affordability levels,” the statement reads.

It is unclear if additional in-lieu fees would need to be paid.

A developer can switch between paying fees or building the units until the first construction documents are filed.

The project needs large-project authorization and conditional-use authorization from the Planning Commission to move forward.

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