By Nancy Amdur
San Francisco’s Civic Center is on the road toward becoming a more complete neighborhood offering a range of housing, services and transportation with the Planning Commission’s approval last Thursday of 420 residential units planned for 150 Van Ness Ave.
San Francisco-based developer Emerald Fund, sponsoring the project with equity partner the National Electrical Benefit Fund, plans to soon begin demolishing the former offices of AAA to make way for the new 120-foot building, which also will include 9,000 square feet of ground-floor retail and 210 parking spaces.[contextly_sidebar id=”COcG88aKLDipfkRPW3SfUxm7mafhKBe3″]With 150 Van Ness, the developer will have added about 1,000 units to the Civic Center neighborhood, said Emerald Fund Chairman Oz Erickson. The company’s other nearby projects include 400 apartments at 100 Van Ness and 162 units at 101 Polk St., both slated to open this year.
These and other projects in the area “are turning a 9-to-5 office district into a vibrant 24/7 neighborhood,” Erickson said. “Historically, the Hayes Street block from Polk to Van Ness has always been ugly, and in the late evenings, after all the office buildings were shut down, it became dangerous.”
“It’s turned into a neighborhood,” added Commissioner Rich Hillis. “I don’t think we could have called it a neighborhood 10 years ago. It’s great to see all these projects happening.”
The new 13-story 150 Van Ness building, occupying about one acre, will feature retail space on the corner of Hayes and Van Ness and streetfront residences along Hayes. The project, designed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based firm Solomon Cordwell Buenz, will include studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom units, 50 of which will be affordable. Among the building’s amenities will be courtyards and a rooftop terrace, pool and fitness center.
The 150 Van Ness project hit a snag over the past few weeks as administrators and parents of students from the year-round LePort School at 50 Fell St., whose historic building abuts one of the project’s five parcels, protested the plans mainly due to privacy, noise and air quality concerns. Part of the new 150 Van Ness building will sit just 5.5 feet from the school.
Many parents of children who attend the all-day Montessori school, which serves children ages 3 months to 6 years old, voiced safety concerns at the hearing about the project’s construction and how its close proximity would affect the school.
However, Emerald Fund and school officials came to a last-minute agreement on Thursday, which included the developer agreeing to keep construction noise at a minimum and add 11 windows along the school’s north wall. Heike Larson, LePort’s vice president of strategy and outreach, told planning commissioners that the school was withdrawing its opposition to the project and that Emerald Fund had agreed to mitigations “in good faith.”
In the end, the planning commissioners unanimously approved the project. To address school privacy concerns, one condition of approval was that windows on the lower six floors of the façade of the new 150 Van Ness building closest to 50 Fell will be translucent and nonoperable. Also, demolition of the southern wall of the building adjacent to the school will not occur during school hours.
Emerald Fund expects the five-month demolition of the property to begin as soon as its permits are approved. Construction is expected to be complete in 2017.
Commissioners also noted that Emerald Fund’s project fits well with the city’s Market and Octavia Area Plan, which encourages more housing and retail in the area near Market Street between the Van Ness and the Church Street Muni stations and along the portion of Octavia Boulevard where the former Central Freeway right-of-way was located.
“With the added vitality that new housing and other uses will bring, the area’s established character as an urban place can be strengthened and enhanced,” the plan states.
In the past, “the best thing you could say about this neighborhood was that it’s uninviting,” said Tim Colen, the executive director of the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition, who supported the project.
Overall, “it’s an extraordinary project,” said Commissioner Michael Antonini.