Fourth Street’s future lined with tall stories

A wall of high-rise office towers will stretch southeast from San Francisco’s downtown along Fourth Street to the emerging Mission Bay business and biotechnology research hub under a new long-term plan by city officials.

The Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development recently directed the Planning Department to scale back modest rezoning proposals for the low-rise Fourth Street corridor between Folsom and Townsend streets. Instead, high-rises may eventually be allowed to crowd the planned Fourth Street path of the Central Subway, a multibillion dollar rail project.

The Central Subway will link the Caltrain station at Fourth and Townsend streets with the multi-modal Transbay Transit Center planned at First and Mission streets, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency documents show. Some of the route will be above-ground. Full funding has not been secured for the subway, which is planned for construction between 2010 and 2016.

Under current zoning rules, building heights along Fourth Street are limited to 65 feet, said Planning Department official Ken Rich, who is leading the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan — a sweeping rezoning effort covering 2,200 acres of the Central Waterfront, Potrero Hill, Mission and South of Market neighborhoods.

Fourth Street rezoning efforts will effectively be put into a “holding pattern” until the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan is finished and approved, which is expected later this year, Rich said.

It’s unclear how high the new Fourth Street buildings will rise, but the Planning Department is pushing a separate plan to allow a landmark tower above the new transit center to reach 1,000 feet, while most other towers in The City would be capped at 800 feet or less. The Transamerica Pyramid is roughly 850 feet.

Mayoral development adviser Michael Yarne said the new Fourth Street proposal makes economic and environmental sense.

If built, the corridor’s office buildings will fill with workers who ride trains through the new subway, said Yarne, who added that concentrating high-rise towers along a transit route will help protect the environment from car emissions.

“If we’re going to be supporting a billion-plus dollar investment in a new subway, the least we could is to plan for transit-oriented development along the line,” Yarne said.

jupton@sfexaminer.com

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