The city of San Francisco Parks to Pavement program plans to transform the site of Francis Scott Key School into a community resource with a community garden, a skate park, improved basketball courts and a host of other play and community areas. (Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner)

Neighbors spar over proposals for new ‘Playland’ park

A project that began as a universally supported effort in the typically drama-free Outer Sunset has devolved into a dispute marked by an unusual level of resistance.

Neighbors, city and school officials banded together earlier this year to explore potential uses for the San Francisco Unified School District’s Francis Scott Key Annex at 1360 43rd Ave.

Turning the approximately one-acre underutilized chunk of asphalt into a park was an idea many considered to be a slam dunk.

The property consists of asphalt and an L-shaped building, condemned for use by students because it does not meet seismic safety standards.

But as plans are finalized for a temporary use for the site, dubbed Playland at 43rd Avenue in a nod to San Francisco’s beloved Playland-at-the-Beach amusement park that was torn down in 1972, opposing groups of neighbors continue to spar over certain aspects of the proposal some say will create too much noise.

And though the Outer Sunset is bordered by the Pacific Ocean and Golden Gate Park, open space is still hard to come by.

Many residents favor refurbishing the basketball court and adding an adult fitness area, an artists’ courtyard, a community garden and other features.

However, implementing ramps for skateboarding and the potential for live music has sparked concerns among hundreds of neighbors.

The project — designed pro bono by global architecture and design firm Perkins + Will — is likely weeks shy of receiving a year-long permit from the school district to proceed.

Still, the debate continues to percolate among neighbors. “We don’t see conflict that is this contentious that often,” said Sanjiv Singh, who lives about 20 yards from the annex.

“However, because of the unique nature of this site, the fact that it is located in the middle of houses on all sides, I think a lot of neighbors have been moved and are really concerned about how the property is going to be used.”

But hundreds of other neighbors favor adding the skateboarding ramps and are confident the activity will not generate any additional noise than what is already created by the basketball courts at the site, said John Zwolinski, who also lives close to the site and teaches at nearby A.P. Giannini Middle School.

“People jump the fence and play basketball there all the time,” Zwolinski said. “The noise of basketballs and the noise of kids on boards would be about the same.”

Supervisor Katy Tang, who spearheaded the effort earlier this year to transform the asphalt into a playland as part of The City’s Pavements to Parks initiative, said there have been six community meetings in which numerous ideas were vetted.

“Through our community meetings, we have changed and revised the design and elements of what would go in to the proposed annex site yard to accommodate all concerns,” Tang said.

“There obviously will be some people who won’t be happy, but overall … this project will activate an underutilized site that has just been sitting vacant.”

The site was used as a county community school in 2012, though the only space that functioned as classrooms were modular buildings that have since been removed, said David Goldin, chief facility officer for the SFUSD.

While the district considers permanent uses for the site, including building a new school or housing for educators, it has conceded to The City’s requests to make the area more appealing. Six months ago a new coat of paint was slapped on the main building, which is used for district offices. The SFUSD supports turning the asphalt into a temporary park.

“It seemed like a total win-win,” Goldin said. “We think the supervisor put forth a great idea for the neighborhood. She identified a need, and we’re trying to assist.”

Goldin emphasized that the district is not involved in the decision-making process over what will end up in the park, after both sides presented their cases to a Board of Education committee meeting Monday night.

“We’re not trying to take sides,” said Goldin. “We’re in the process of working through that now and when we’re ready and we think it’s appropriate, we’ll issue the permit.”

The Planning Department has identified $100,000 to build the temporary park, which will go toward materials, labor and staff. Much of the materials will also be recycled, according to city officials.

Tang noted that the purpose of the park is to unite neighbors. “Overall I see a lot of positivity coming out of this project,” she said.

“I have seen so many neighbors come out. Just to see that level of engagement is rare, and I hope that we will not miss the point that this is really a community building project.”

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