Neighbors not sold on Presidio housing compromise

The creation of a panel that will be directed to come up with new plans for housing at a historic Presidio hospital has been met with skepticism from neighbors, months after a previous proposal garnered little public support.

The plan that fell under heavy criticism this summer called for the construction of 230 apartments in the graffiti-covered Public Health Service Hospital and its two wings on 15th Avenue and Lake Street.

Neighbors say they want the wings torn down and are concerned about the number of residents a new development would attract.

In June, hundreds gathered to oppose the Presidio Trust’s plans and asked the federal decision makers to reconsider. The trust, a federal body created by Congress to oversee the Presidio, has worked since 2000 to rehabilitate the hospital, which has been vacant for more than two decades.

The trust has since announced the creation of a group of 12 to 14 community members and planners to form a panel to develop a compromise for hospital plans. The panel, whose members have yet to be named by the trust, is scheduled to meet three to four times next month, said Tia Lombardi, a spokeswoman for the trust.

Mark Weinstock, a member of the Richmond-Presidio Neighbors Association, said its creation may simply be a way to placate neighbors who vehemently opposed the previous plan.

Previously, discussions about the hospital didn’t include the public, except during two- or three-minute public comment sessions, Weinstock said.

The new forum is intended to serve as a way to reach a solution that all sides can agree upon, even if no one gets exactly what they want, said Dana Polk, media relations manager for the Presidio Trust.

The trust is not required to adhere to local planning rules because it oversees federal property. As such, its board makes the final decision with regard to how it will be developed. That means the new panel can only make suggestions about how to develop the land.

The trust’s executive director, Craig Middleton, said the Presidio exists in a neighborhood surrounded by San Franciscans and that they aim to be good neighbors.

“That relationship is very important,” Middleton said.

Claudia Lewis, president of the neighbors’ association, said it’s possible a lawsuit could be filed if the new hospital development plans don’t meet federal environmental laws.

“Hopefully we don’t have to do it,” Lewis said.

mcarroll@examiner.com

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