A nearly 10-year struggle over the demolition of a 101-year-old Methodist church to make way for condominiums on Nob Hill may be over.
Earlier this month, the San Francisco Planning Commission approved a pared-down Anasazi Properties project at the corner of Larkin and Clay streets, where the First St. John’s Methodist Church currently sits. Neighborhood opposition to the demolition of the dilapidated, unused church — which once was nearly given landmark status — and the proposed building’s original size and architectural style played a part in stalling the development.
Much of that opposition has dissolved because the developer made a series of requested changes to the project.
The remaining opponents contend that support came at a price: $60,000.
In July, one of the main neighborhood groups against the project, the roughly 150-person Middle Polk Neighborhood Association, changed its tune. A July 8 letter to the Planning Commission said the group decided to back the project after a survey of members revealed that 55 percent supported it.
Their approval hinged on “a $60,000 donation towards beautification projects in the Middle Polk area, as a concession given to the neighborhood for the loss of a historic resource.” The letter goes on to say, “We wish to note that the $60,000 neighborhood beautification fund is not directed at MPNA but will rather be managed by an unrelated fiscal sponsor organization.”
That organization, Friends of the Urban Forest, said it will oversee the money.
But some still think the deal stinks.
“MPNA held up the project for a long, long time,” said David Villa-Lobos, executive director of the Community Leadership Alliance, an 800-member group based in the area. Opposition focused on height and scale issues, he added, and “then all of a sudden none of those parts seem to matter after the … $60,000.”
Linda Chapman, a neighborhood resident whose roughly 60-person group Nob Hill Neighbors fought the development, agrees. In an email about the project, she wrote that the MPNA’s attitude change was part of “dubious financial negotiations to eliminate the 1911 church.” The money may be held in a trust by another group, she said, but a neighborhood association taking money from a developer is improper.
Developer John McInerney and MPNA secretary Michael Schoolnik say such accusations are hogwash.
“That is just slander,” Schoolnik said of accusations that his group is doing anything nefarious with the $60,000. “If and when the money gets given, I suppose we’ll put together a group of people who will put it to the best use.”
McInerney said he promised the money — which is pending — to the neighborhood and not a single group.
“The commission votes on things, not the neighbors, and the money was not given to a neighborhood group,” said McInerney. He said he told Supervisor David Chiu, who represents the area and who facilitated the deal, “I’d give it to whatever group they liked that benefited the whole neighborhood.”
The 27-unit, five-story condo project was shot down twice before by the Planning Commission after its initial filing in 2004, said McInerney.
After the denial by the Planning Commission, McInerney’s company, along with the church’s owners, sued The City and others in state and federal court. The City won the state case and the federal case is pending, according to the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office.
One roadblock remains: possible appeals of the Planning Commission’s Oct. 3 vote approving the project. It must be filed no later than today.
If none materialize, McInerney says he hopes demolition permits will come before the end of the year and building permits some time next year.