Future of a neighborhood: Distinction vs. development

With developers clamoring to purchase nearly a dozen lots in the Castro, longtime residents and business owners have been fretting about what might come of the famously gay neighborhood.

Now, a plan that aims to maintain the feel of the neighborhood while the area grows is in the works.

In large part, the wide-reaching suggestions for the plan, which covers a large area between Market Street and Octavia Boulevard to 17th Street and Market streets, have seen remarkable consensus, Planning Director John Rahaim said.

“I think it’s an excellent model of how we can do these things in other areas where we see growth happening,” he said.

However, the document has been far from controversy-free: A plan to close 17th Street, though supported by many businesses, was described as “a shortsighted effort to solve a problem that doesn’t exist,” said Patrick Batt, a longtime Castro business owner and former director of the Merchants of Upper Market and Castro.

But community groups fear the plan may not do enough to preserve the neighborhood’s color or character, and worry the new developments will eventually squeeze gay-friendly culture out of the  neighborhood.

“We need to protect the gay identity of the neighborhood,” said Damien Quesnel, who is on the board of the Eureka Valley Promotion Association. “If you look at how many new units are going to be coming into the Upper Market area in the next five or 10 years, and if you look at the profile of people moving in, it’s not often gay people that are moving in.”

Though he admitted there’s not much to be done about non-gay people moving in, he said The City could consider programs that would help Castro residents who are displaced by new development find new homes within theneighborhood.

“There are very few places in the world where young gay people can come and experience being in an environment where they are in the majority,” he said. “It’s worth preserving.”

The wide-reaching planning document, the Upper Market Design Plan, is a brainchild of Supervisor Bevan Dufty, and resulted from what he says was the best-attended planning process in memory.

kworth@sfexaminer.com

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