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article imageOp-Ed: High Density housing issue has neighborhood talking Special

By Jonathan Farrell     Oct 5, 2015 in Lifestyle
San Francisco - The subject of high density housing in the Sunset took center stage at the Sunset Heights Association of Responsible People this past summer.
“It was standing room only and an enthusiastic crowd,” said Frank Noto, president of SHARP.
The SHARP clubhouse in the inner-Sunset District of San Francisco hosted a meeting on August 31 to discuss plans in the works.
He surmised that many were from other parts of the City eager to listen to the presentation by Westlake Urban and others who are seeking to redevelop the 6.3 acres at the end of 5th Avenue near Kirkham in the heart of the inner-Sunset District.
The idea is to tear down existing structures (namely The Kirkham Heights apartment complex) at the hillside of Mt. Sutro and build 460 units. For those not familiar with the western part of San Francisco, it is where Golden Gate Park is. Traditionally, the area has been a mixture of single-family homes and small merchant business areas. Most of the apartment and condominium complexes are less than five stories high and are intermittent. Mount Sutro is a wooded peak sounded by housing and the University of California of San Francisco Medical Center campus and compound of offices, administration buildings and laboratories.
This reporter got the opportunity to learn about the proposed plans for a new Kirkham Heights while on assignment for The Sunset Beacon.
The current Kirkham Heights complex was built in 1950 and has 86 units, neatly nestled along an incline with some room to spare. But if the idea is drafted and approved, 86 units will be replaced with almost four times the amount of housing in that narrow spot.
As Noto said later, “Only 90 units of housing have been built in the Sunset over the past 10 years. I think it is imperative we build.”
According to Naomi Porat, co-founder of the project development management firm Transform Urban, the goal is to “create a model for environmentally and socially responsible urban infill development.” Another goal is to “attract a mix of income diversity, age diversity, and different types of housing.” Westlake Urban claims that 85 percent of current residents are “working professionals or students.”
Former SF Planning Commissioner Dennis Antenore was present. He insisted that the amount of affordable housing should be increased to more than 30 percent, since what is being envisioned is on a grand scale.
Local realtor John Barry who lives and works on 10th Ave, not far from the Kirkham Heights complex is in favor of more housing. But as he later said. “The 'Cezanne-like' rendering that accompanied the presentation says little of the reality here.” The bulk of construction for that many units has no other space to build, but up.
Barry believes newer construction ideas could be done. But he noted “what about parking?” “If 460 units were to be built, I don’t see how cars can fit into the site.” The idea of urging residents with cars to park on surrounding streets is unwise. “Parking in the neighborhood is a problem enough as it is,” he said.
Noto emphasized that the meeting’s purpose was informational. “Mostly for the ‘stakeholders’ and “no application has been submitted as of yet, Noto said. This is all preliminary.
Two representatives of the Planning Dept. were at the meeting, Marcelle Boudreaux and Kansai Uchida. “I was not impressed with them, said Barry it all seemed to be the developers who had all the info and answered questions.”
Tim Colen, of the Housing Action Coalition was present and is in favor of the idea. He promotes large-scale re-builds like Parkmerced. Located near San Francisco State University, Parkmerced was built after WWII and has been the subject of debate as plans are moving forward to add more high rise towers and demolish the garden duplex units. Many long-time residents were evicted and displaced as Parkmerced expansion has still not fully been approved or finalized.
Barry noted that even if the project gets underway, there was little understanding presented about rental laws. “Rent control is an issue and while I like the idea of new housing, where are the current residents going to go? It seems to be some tenants will be rolled off, like a log down the hill.” “If relocated during construction, he said, will they be able to come back?”
Then there are the environmental issues. So many units along a slim space of hillside; “Trees will have to go and some major moving of earth at Mt. Sutro. It won’t be easy,” said Barry.
Craig Dawson of Mount Sutro Stewards attended. He has lived in the area all is life and is a champion of the mountain and its trails. Developers say they will respect the mountain and its trails. Dawson later would only say, “nothing is set in stone at the moment. There isn’t even an Environmental Impact Report out yet. Plans may change six times or more, by then, so we have to wait and see.”
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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