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  • SF Examiner - Laura Waxmann

Owner of Mission laundromat sues city over project delays

A Marin property owner who has been trying since 2014 to build housing on the site of an aging Mission District laundromat has sued The City for delaying the project, claiming that repeated demands for further study amount to obstruction.

Robert Tillman on Monday filed suit against The City and the Board of Supervisors, which in June ordered him to conduct additional studies on the plan to build 75 units of market rate housing at 2918-2924 Mission St.

Tillman is suing to reverse that decision and seeking $17 million in damages, as was first reported by Mission Local. That dollar amount represents the difference between “what we estimate the project could be sold for, fully entitled, and its current value,” Tillman told the San Francisco Examiner on Tuesday.

He is also suing for violation of his constitutional rights, including “those protected by due process, equal protection and takings clauses,” according to the lawsuit.

Neighborhood activists and groups including Calle 24, which was formed to preserve and advocate for Latino culture and businesses in the area, have continuously pushed Tillman to increase the project’s affordability. Tillman contends these efforts could further delay the project and make him miss a deadline that would increase the amount of affordable units he is required to provide.

Proposition C mandates 25 percent on-site affordability for market-rate projects in the Mission, but Tillman’s project began before the law’s 2016 passage and is grandfathered in at less than half of that percentage — as long as he is issued a site permit by The City by December 7.

“We will be damaged hugely by missing that deadline and The City is forcing us to miss it,” said Tillman, adding that he is asking the court to suspend the deadline while the lawsuit is ongoing. He said that his project’s affordability component is on par with local law at the time and the State Density Bonus law, and that he is “working with the court to enforce the law.”

Tillman’s project was granted approval by The City’s Planning Commission last November.

However, since then the Board of Supervisors has twice delayed approval in response to appeals filed by Calle 24.

In February, the board required Tillman to assess the historic value of the 1920’s era building that houses the laundromat. That assessment found the building does not meet the criteria necessary to designate it a historic resource.

In June, the board determined that an additional shadow study is needed to assess the project’s impacts on an adjacent school.

The lawsuit states that The City’s planning staff has “repeatedly found in reports that any such shadows do not constitute a significant environmental impact under the City’s existing policies.”

Among Tillman’s claims is that Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who represents the Mission District, sided with “special interest groups in the Mission seeking to acquire the property at a below market price” and moved to block the project after he refused,” according to court documents.

The Mission Economic Development Agency, a non-profit housing developer in the Mission, has previously offered to buy the building for $9 million from Tillman, who rejected that proposal.

Ronen called it “sad” that Tillman “would rather sue The City than follow the law like everyone else has to do and determine the impacts of his project on the neighborhood and mitigate those impacts.”

“I know he wants to make every penny that he can make out of this project, which is his right, but that doesn’t trump my job, which is to ensure that the project is studied for its impact on children’s access to sunshine on a playground,” said Ronen. “What I had before me is a legal question about whether or not there has been a sufficient analysis done and I did not believe it was sufficient.”

Ronen added that Tillman revealed to her in prior conversations that he has “absolutely zero intention” of building housing at the site.

“He wants to be able to sell the project and get top dollar [by selling] the entitlement,” she said.

Tillman said that while he intended to build the project, he does not have the “financial wherewithal or expertise” to see it through.

“Once the project is fully entitled there are plenty of people who will build it,” he said.

John Cote, a spokesperson for the City Attorney’s office, said that the lawsuit will be reviewed once it’s served.

“In all matters, including those involving environmental review, the City takes great care to ensure that the law is followed,” said Cote.

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