Planning Commission rejects Mission laundromat site housing despite pending lawsuit

In a narrow 4-3 vote, the Planning Commission on Thursday rejected a conditional use authorization needed to advance a controversial market-rate housing project on the site of a century-old Mission District laundromat.

The project, which is the subject of ongoing litigation, proposes merging three parcels into one totalling 11,653 square feet to build 75 market rate and eight affordable apartments at 2918-1924 Mission St.

The commission rejected that lot merger over concerns that shadows cast by the proposed 85 foot-tall building would impact two neighboring school yards, among other things.

Last month, property owner and Marin County landlord Robert Tillman sued The City, claiming that repeated demands for further study of its impacts — including an analysis of the landromat’s historic value and a shadow impact study — amount to obstruction.

Though the project was initially approved by the Planning Commission in November 2017, it was appealed twice by neighborhood activists and groups pushing to increase the project’s affordability and critical of its height and potential negative impacts.

A 2016 city law requires 25 percent on-site affordability for market-rate projects in the Mission, but when Tillman initially proposed the project in 2014, he utilized a state density law bonus law that allowed him to add extra units without requiring an increase in below-market-rate units. The move effectively scaled down the project from what would be 14.9 percent affordability under current city law to just 11 percent.

“It’s a bit unfortunate that the project sponsor is invoking the state density bonus. The biggest factor for me in that is the reduction of affordable housing — we go from a level that could be up to 25 percent to 11 percent,” said Commission President Richard Hillis, who ultimately voted in favor of the CU authorization, conceding that the project is “grandfathered in” by the state law.

In June, The City’s Board of Supervisors ordered an additional shadow study, results of which were presented to the commission on Thursday. In his complaint, Tillman argues that the study is an effort to further delay his project.

On Thursday, environmental planner Julie Moore said that shadows from the project, “while noticeable during current morning recess times, would not substantially affect use of the school yards and not exceed level commonly experienced or expected in a dense urban environment.”

In question are two school yards belonging to the Zaida T. Rodriguez early education school, which runs a pre-kindergarten that operates year-round on weekdays from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and is adjacent to and south of the project site; and a transitional kindergarten that operates most weekdays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., across Osage Alley and to the west of the proposed project.

According to planning documents, the Pre-K yard is used by students from roughly 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m, and the transitional kindergarten yard is used from about 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. — lunch recess at both school begins around noon.

The study found that the proposed project would increase shadow at the transitional kindergarten’s school yard by approximately 17 percent on an annual basis, leaving the yard by about 11:30 a.m. from late February through mid-November.

“The area of net new shadow on the yard would vary by season and time of day, from as low as 2 percent of the schoolyard to as much as 97 percent of the schoolyard,” according to the study.

At the Pre-K yard, shadow would be increased by approximately 0.18 percent, and “net new shadow coverage…would be limited to 5 percent of the yard for 10 minutes of morning recess, and after 4:45 p.m. until school closing at 5:30 p.m.,” per the study.

But community advocates disagreed with the notion that the shadow impact was insignificant.

“The entire [transitional kindergarten’s] playground will be in shadow for most of the year until 11 am. — the school is open until 2 pm that’s half the school day,” said Kelly Hill, an organizer with United to Save the Mission, adding that “the community deserves a better project overall.”

Commissioner Mirna Melgar said that the study downplayed the impacts that the increased shadow could have on students’ health and development.

“I don’t see how you can see a 63 percent increase in the shadow as insignificant. that’s unbelievable,” said Melgar. “The Zeida Rodriguez program is year round, so during [summer] the kids are there. This is a significant impact.”

Commissioner Dennis Richard agreed.

“I look at the shadow study and think, ‘wow the school playground will be most in the fall, winter and spring, and if sun doesn’t start hitting it early on it will be dank and damp,’” he said. “Will kids want to play in moisture? Not even my dogs want to lay out on deck when it’s wet.”

Tillman declined to comment on Thursday’s vote, citing the pending litigation, but offered a letter from his attorney that stated that the CU authorization for the lot merger was not required to move the project forward “because the project application was deemed complete prior to the relevant legislation.” Since the project’s initial approval last year, The City’s planning code was revised to require the authorization for lot mergers.

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