Cathedral Hill tower plan ignites height-limits fight

An outright battle over waterfront heights have dominated development discussions in San Francisco of late, but Thursday the fight over tall buildings moved about 2 miles inland where a 416-foot-tall building is being proposed for the top of Cathedral Hill.

Among the most outspoken critics of the 1481 Post St. high-rise are elderly residents and operators of the senior housing complex adjacent to the site who are blasting it for anticipated shadows, traffic and wind impacts. Perhaps the biggest challenge for project approval is the fact that the existing height limit for the site is 240 feet.

“We are not talking about 25-year-old people who get on Google buses,” said Barbara Hood, CEO of Northern California Presbyterian Homes and Services, which operates Sequoias, the nearby senior housing facility. “We are talking about seniors. They are small. They are frail, but they get out and exercise, but the wind impact will be serious.”

Critics voiced such concerns at Thursday's Planning Commission hearing on the draft environmental impact report, which is required under the California Environmental Quality Act. Comments on the document can be submitted until Sept. 15.

The development is proposed by the ADCO Group, a national privately owned real estate and merchant banking company founded by Alvin Dworman. It would contain 262 new housing units at 36 stories, or 416 feet tall. The location is in the Western Addition near Japantown and bounded by Geary Boulevard and Gough Street.

The proposal is up for consideration as Mayor Ed Lee has promised to build or rehabilitate 30,000 housing units by 2020, with the goal of one-third being below market rate. That goal may add more pressure for such developments to gain approval by city officials as they struggle to address evictions and soaring rents that have impacted San Francisco since the technology boom kickstarted in 2011.

Well-known land-use attorney Sue Hestor said city officials must start requiring developers to reveal who they plan to market the units to in order to adequately address housing challenges.

“Is it going to be housing for people who just really need housing?” Hestor said. “That information needs to be provided by the developer. It should also be disclosed before the Planning Department approves a project.”

Project supporter Tim Colen, head of the San Francisco Action Coalition, a nonprofit that advocates for development, believes the development is well-suited for Cathedral Hill.

“CEQA allows folks that live in what by any reasonable definition is one of the most exclusive addresses in the Bay Area to claim that they are grieved and oppressed because someone wants to build a tall building next to their tall building,” Colen said. “Is there a better location than Cathedral Hill to put height?”

Some opponents said they would support an alternative proposal, which would have the development scaled back to 256 feet in height and contain 161 units.

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