SF apartment project planned near freeway

The intersection of Ninth and Bryant streets — where U.S. Highway 101 dumps four lanes of traffic into South of Market — is a noisy crossroads. Even the nearest coffee shop, MotoJava, speaks to the trafficked reality there.

But in a city like San Francisco, where development space comes at a premium, it’s considered good planning to squeeze 12 units onto what is now a small parking lot about 30 feet wide between a freeway exit and a clothing store — even if health and quality-of-life issues could be of concern for the planned market-rate rentals.

The development would seem to be just the kind of urban infill project desired by a City Hall that is pushing for 30,000 new or refurbished housing units by 2020.

“It’s a longtime vacant lot that our owners thought is a good location for new housing,” said Jeremy Schaub, one of the architects working on the project. He would not name the owners, but public documents show Russell Stanaland was the latest owner before the deed was transferred to 520 9th Street LLC in 2013.

“It’s whatever we could fit there,” Schaub said in reference to the number of units that will fill the four-story, 40-foot tall building.

But a neighborhood activist and a development watcher say no one should be living on a site riddled with issues like those at 520 Ninth St.

“Are they crazy? Why are they even thinking about putting housing here,” said Jim Meko, chairman of the neighborhood activist group SoMa Leadership Council.

The air quality on the site and the area’s flooding issues should be enough to discourage The City from moving ahead on the project, Meko said. But those are not issues that seemed to matter.

“The Planning Department is trying to keep the mayor happy so the mantra over there is housing, housing, housing,” Meko said.

Neither the planner overseeing the project nor the Mayor’s Office returned calls for comment.

“If you don’t care about people’s health” then that location works, said Sue Hestor, an attorney and longtime development watcher.

Parking lots alongside freeways and other such “junk sites,” as described by Hestor, typically give investors little return. But the real estate boom changed that, and now places rife with future health issues are being considered for housing.

“So if you have no conscience, and The City as a whole I don’t think has much of a conscience,” then you would allow housing in such a place, she said.

These concerns were noted in the initial proposal filed with the Planning Department in 2013. Aside from noting that the site sits in a location prone to flooding, the preliminary proposal mentioned that if significant air pollution is present, the building will require an air-filtration system. It also said the project sits in a seismically unsafe location where settling, liquefaction and other hazards may be present.

Schaub, one of the architects at the firm working on the project, would not speak to all of the site’s potential issues, but did say flooding would not be an issue.

“Flooding, we were told, is not a problem because we are not planning on excavating the property,” he said.

As of this week, the project’s building permit was under review, but the $2 million project will need variances to be built — for one thing, the lot is not zoned residential and the project would exceed area height limits.

If the project does go through, the new residents will have a view of the cars coming off the freeway as well as the homeless encampment underneath the roadway.

The building permit application on the parking lot fence noted that a patio will be included in the project.

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