Project in San Francisco’s Portola District Looks to Add Single Family Housing

Greenhouse Project, IwamotoScott Architecture, Excelsior, Bernal Heights, Visitacion Valley, Portola District, Group I, American Institute of Architects San Francisco, 770 Woolsey
Rendering courtesy of IwamotoScott Architecture

By Michele Chandler

Whether the site of a former plant nursery at 770 Woolsey St. in San Francisco can be transformed into a $90 million residential housing enclave is now before the San Francisco Planning Commission.

San Francisco-based developer Group I has filed plans to construct at least 63 and as many as 86 single-family homes on the site. The homes would be three to four stories tall—approximately 30 to 40 feet high—the city’s document said.

The city’s Preliminary Project Assessment (PPA) letter filed on Jan. 19 provides feedback to the project sponsor from the Planning Department regarding the proposed project described in the PPA application submitted on September 15, 2017.

A representative from the San Francisco Planning Department could not be reached for comment.

The project is located on a 2.2-acre site in the Portola District that’s bounded to the north by Wayland Street, to the south by Woolsey Street, to the west by Bowdoin Street and to the east by Hamilton Street. If approved, it would become the largest active single-family home proposal in the city and located in Portola, a San Francisco neighborhood where little development has taken place. Portola is nestled between Visitacion Valley, Bernal Heights and Excelsior. The project designer is San Francisco-based IwamotoScott Architecture.

Group I president Joy Ou has pegged development costs for the project at between $80 million to $90 million. Group I bought the property for $7.5 million last year, according to public records.

“We are excited that the project has entered this early stage of the entitlement process and continue to look forward to working with the neighborhood community, the Planning Department and other City authorities to iterate its best possible version in light of all stakeholders’ interests,” Ou said in an email to The Registry.

Each dwelling would include one vehicle parking space, with access provided through new curb cuts on the project site—four on Bowdoin Street and four on Hamilton Street.

Situated in a mainly residential neighborhood, the 96,000-square-foot area spans an entire city block and had been the location of former plant nursery. Existing structures on the site are related to that previous agricultural use, the city said, including 16 to 18 greenhouses and agricultural accessory buildings. Farm operations on the project site were discontinued in the early 1990s, and the property has been vacant for years.

Some residents who want to see a new park and urban farm on the entire site are opposed to Group I’s new housing plan. Citing the Portola’s history as an agricultural center and one-time rose farm, the nonprofit Greenhouse Project has opposed housing development on the property, advocating that it should become a “community-serving urban farm” and education site.

Curiously, the proposed development site is right next to the 312-acre John McLaren Park, which features scenic meadows, grassland and wetland habitat, as well as 7 miles of walking trails, playgrounds, picnic areas and game courts.

The Woolsey Street land is now zoned RH-1, which permits one single family residential home per parcel, according to filings made with the Planning Department. This allows for the development of 34 single family residences on their own separate parcels after the property is subdivided. The height limit for buildings on the site is currently 40 feet.

The total number of dwellings is in flux because the project is seeking to use the California’s State Density Bonus Law, which would allow Group I to add 23 dwelling units to the project, bringing to 86 the total number of new single-family homes. If approved, 23 more vehicle parking spaces would also be provided, for a total of 86 spaces, all with individual garages, according to city documents. Bicycle parking spots must also be created, the city said.

Enacted in 2017, the State Density Bonus Law permits developers to exceed certain local zoning restrictions in exchange for providing subsidized affordable housing within their projects.

The project also would allow the development to “incremental housing,” a step-by-step development concept to support family growth. Owners can have with a “starter core,” typically a kitchen, a bathroom and/or a living room and can pay to add on certain pre-determined features that would further expand the home’s size.

“Incremental housing provides individuals and families with the ability to grow into their home based on their needs and financial situation” while providing housing opportunities for middle-income workers and families, the city’s document said.

Group I also has a mixed-use project approved at 950 Market St. with 242 condos and 232 hotel rooms.

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