Presidio housing hits wall with community

A plan to turn an abandoned, graffiti-covered Presidio building into 230 residential units is being met with community resistance as neighbors say the increased density will flood residential streets with traffic.

The Presidio Trust, a government agency created by Congress to preserve and enhance the Presidio, has been working on a plan for six years to rehabilitate the historic Public Health Service Hospital, which has been empty since 1986.

Tucked in the southwest corner of the park, the core of the building and more than a dozen smaller historic buildings in the area total more than 275,000 square feet. The rehabilitation of the complex will be the largest preservation project undertaken by the Trust to date. Last June the Trust spent $13 million renovating 13 historic homes in the Presidio known as Pilot’s Row. The 85-year-old homes rent from $3,000 to $4,000 a month.

The Trust is aggressively rehabilitating the park’s historic homes and converting some buildings for residential use as way to produce a stable source of income. By 2013, when federal appropriations end, the park must be self-sufficient. In 2004, The Trust earned $23.2 million in gross revenue from residential leasing.

However, the Trust has repeatedly come to blows with nearby residents as it revamps buildings, with neighbors claiming the Trust ignores their concerns about traffic and environmental issues.

The project — near 15th Avenue and Lake Street — has already been scaled down from the original proposal of 450 bedrooms in 350 units because of complaints, according to Dana Polk, media relations manager for the Presidio Trust.

A final environmental impact report, which includes a plan for residential units with 367 bedrooms, office space and a grocery store, will be presented at a meeting Thursday.

Despite the downsizing, there will be 716 people using the site, which is about the same number as the original proposal, according to Claudia Lewis, the president of the Richmond Presidio Neighbors Association.

To mitigate traffic concerns, 15th Avenue would be turned into a one-way street exiting the area while 14th Avenue, currently a cul-de-sac serving 11 homes, would be turned into a one-way entrance. A plan to create an offramp from Park Presidio Boulevard into the park has been put on hold by Caltrans because of safety concerns.

“The best-case scenario is that they truly downsize the scale of the development by taking down the wings of the hospital and create Park Presidio access,” Lewis said.

The road changes, along with the reduction in the number of units, would cut traffic by about “18 percent to 25 percent depending on the time of the day,” said Craig Middleton, the executive director of the Presidio Trust.

“I would love to have a direction set and have reconstruction beginning, assuming that’s the way it goes by the beginning of 2008,” Middleton said.

The Trust will hold its final public hearing Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in the Golden Gate Club at 135 Fisher Loop. The board of directors could make a decision on the plan by the end of the month.

sfarooq@examiner.com

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