Neighbors rally to stop another chain store proposed in Nob Hill

Nob Hill business groups are once again banding together to try to stop a “big box retail” establishment from opening at the site of a former sporting goods store.

Earlier this month, grocery chain Whole Foods Market applied for a conditional use authorization from the Planning Department to open a 365 market at 1600 Jackson St., longtime home of family-owned Lombardi’s Sporting Goods until 2014.

The 365 by Whole Foods Market is a smaller version of Whole Foods that was announced by the company last year. Nearly a dozen 365 markets have been proposed by Whole Foods nationwide, although none have opened yet.

The vacant Nob Hill site was previously eyed by Target to open a store there last year, but neighborhood opposition prompted Target to retract its application, said Rob Isackson, president of Village Properties that purchased the site from the Lombardi family in 2014.

Isackson said Whole Foods has expressed interest in opening a grocery store there since the property was sold, and noted there is a lack of grocery stores in that area on Polk Street.

“It’s difficult for grocers to make a commitment, and I think it’s only fair that the neighborhood learn about this before making premature judgements that just because they’re formula retail, they’re bad for the neighborhood,” Isackson said. “Whole Foods is an exception to that.”

But the Middle Polk Neighborhood Association and Polk District Merchants Association disagree, arguing in a letter sent this week to Supervisor Aaron Peskin that there are enough grocers in the neighborhood, including Trader Joe’s, LeBeau Market and even another Whole Foods located several blocks away at Franklin and California streets.

“There is simply no need for another grocery retailer along the Polk corridor at 1600 Jackson St. when housing needs have never been as pressing as in our current time,” the groups wrote to Peskin.

Indeed, it’s housing that the groups want to see built at the former sporting goods store site, with space for independent businesses on the ground floor, said Dawn Trennert, who co-founded the Middle Polk Neighborhood Association with her husband in 2006.

Trennert emphasized that many of the businesses along Polk Street are family-owned, with the exception of several Walgreens stores in Nob Hill and nearby Russian Hill.

“[Nob Hill] is a classic, unique San Francisco neighborhood,” Trennert said. “We call it a village in The City … There are a few smatterings of some corporate stores, but very few. We really watch out for that.”

Isackson said housing was considered for the site, but the building itself is ready for a store to open. In fact, Whole Foods estimated it would need just six months for construction after receiving a permit before it could open.

“We absolutely looked at housing for the site, but there’s a 38,000-square-foot building with parking in very good condition,” Isackson said. “We thought, ‘Why tear this down to provide housing when there are probably many people who would be opposed to housing?’” He added, “In San Francisco, you can never make [everyone] happy.”

At a neighborhood meeting about the project last month, residents also expressed their support for opening a Whole Foods at the site, according to documents filed with the conditional use application.

“I’ve [lived] nearby for more than 20 years,” said one resident, whose name was not included in the documents. “Density is a problem now due to mass housing development in recent years. I’m thrilled that you would take over this existing retail space instead of converting it to yet more condos.”

Another resident, whose name was also not included, chimed in, “I’m [also] thrilled about this proposal, as there is no place affordable in my neighborhood for me to buy quality produce or meats.”

The project requires the approval of the Planning Commission.

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