Academy of Art plan approval comes with harsh words from Planning Commission

Examiner file photoDespite grave concerns about the Academy of Art University’s rapid expansion

Examiner file photoDespite grave concerns about the Academy of Art University’s rapid expansion

Despite grave concerns about the Academy of Art University’s rapid expansion,the San Francisco Planning Commission on Thursday accepted the university’s institutional master plan, a vision the commission has rejected twice since 2007.

The Academy’s growth by leasing and converting existing buildings into student housing rather than building new ones has created a list of code violations and led to a volatile relationship between the university and the community. Some critics say the university has cannibalized affordable housing.

Commissioners share those concerns, and declined to accept the master plan in 2007 and 2008 because they said the Academy did not adequately address the problem.

But Thursday, the commission finally accepted the master plan, reasoning that it will be better able to address housing and expansion problems through environmental review of existing and future properties, revised student housing codes and enforcement action against properties violating codes.

“I guess I’m fatigued,” commission President Christina Olague said. “It got really nasty and bitter and didn’t lead to anything but more nastiness and bitterness.”

The commission’s acceptance of the master plan was not a vote of support, but an agreement that the document accomplished its intent of advising the public about future plans. That’s an important distinction, considering strong words some commissioners had for the university.

Commission Vice President Ron Miguel called the university a scofflaw and its master plan “a public relations booklet masquerading as an institutional master plan.”

The university has more than doubled its presence in The City in the past decade, adding 23 buildings — including eight student housing buildings — since 2000, for a total of 40 buildings.

Yet according to documents in the master plan, 15 university buildings, including 11 of its 17 student housing facilities, violate city codes because their new use is not in line with their approved, previous use.

“They’ve totally changed the neighborhood,” said Holly Holman, who has lived on Pine Street since 1978. About 10 years ago, she saw a change, with drunken students yelling, partying and even belting on a bugle on the streets at 2 a.m.

“This has been a neighborhood of apartments and single-family dwellings ever since I lived there, and now it’s become a college campus,” said Holman.

Academy President Elisa Stephens acknowledged the need for better communication, but said critics are wrong about the Academy’s growth.

“We’re going to work closely with the commission and all branches of The City to better educate the public about what our housing is and isn’t,” Stephens said.

sgantz@sfexaminer.com

Bay Area NewsdevelopmentLocalPlanningPlanning CommissionSan Francisco

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