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  • Laura Waxmann -

Long-delayed housing plan on Divisadero Street approved

A much-delayed plan to build new housing at 650 Divisadero St. finally has the green light from a city commission.

The San Francisco Planning Commission voted unanimously on Thursday to approve the controversial project.

An application to develop the former site of an auto repair shop that now houses a seismic retrofitting business was first filed in 2013, but the project has faced multiple delays and revisions since, largely over its affordability rates. The commission’s approval was needed for a conditional use authorization to demolish the building to make room for the 65-foot development.

But the discord continued at Thursday’s hearing, during which community advocates contended that the developer could — and should — be held to a higher standard in regard to providing below market rate housing. The project currently proposes nine of its 66 apartments as BMR , but that number could jump to 13 pending the approval of an ordinance proposed by the area’s supervisor, Vallie Brown.

Since taking office in July, Brown has revived and amended legislation first introduced by former District 5 supervisor London Breed that would increase the affordability requirement on the Divisadero Street Corridor from 18 percent currently mandated under the citywide inclusionary program to 23 percent for new projects and 20 percent for pipeline rental projects such as 650 Divisadero St., which is currently grandfathered in at a 13.5 percent affordability rate.

That legislation is expected to move before the full board of supervisors on Nov. 13 for a first reading, and again on Nov. 27 for a vote.

But Divisadero Street Corridor residents and stakeholders united as the neighborhood advocacy group Affordable Divis have long called for 650 Divisadero St. and other pipeline projects to provide affordability rates as high as 50 percent, and more recently pressed for 33 percent.

Proposition K in 2014 set the non-binding goal that 33 percent of new housing should be affordable.

Prior to Thursday’s hearing, more than 100 emails were submitted to Planning Department imploring the commission to delay its vote on the project once more, to give Brown’s ordinance time to move through the legislative process.

“We want to support this project but you are putting the cart before the horse,” said Gus Hernandez, of Affordable Divis. “What happens if on Tuesday [the supervisors] decide on 21 percent rather than 20 percent?”

Rupert Clayton, land use chair for the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council, pointed out that the project has grown from an initially proposed 16 units to 66.

Another project at 400 Divisadero St. proposes 177 units — both projects plan to take advantage of Breed’s 2015 rezoning of the Divisadero Street Corridor to a Neighborhood Commercial Transportation District.

That designation effectively relaxed bulk and density limitations, allowing the developers to build more units at both sites than previously permitted.

Affordable Divis has proposed amendments to Brown’s resolution, which would apply to all sites that received an increase in density of more than 50 percent from the 2015 rezoning.

“We are waiting for the Board of Supervisors to specifically approve the plan for this area with the level of affordability in it,” said Clayton. “To make a decision on this project a week before the plan comes before the board seems premature.”

But Brown told the San Francisco Examiner on Thursday that she felt it was time for the project to move forward.

Brown said that she has held a number of large format community meetings to gather public input and has worked with the developer of 650 Divisadero St. on a compromise to include the 20 percent affordability rate mandated by her legislation, should it pass.

Of the BMR units, 12 percent would be set at 55 percent Area Median Income, 4 percent at 80 percent AMI, and 4 percent at 110 AMI. The legislation would also come with a neighborhood preference mandate, meaning that 40 percent of the affordable units will be rented out to residents of the area.

Setting a 33 percent affordability requirement on the corridor is unfeasible, said Brown, because construction costs have risen in recent years.

“I think everyone wants [650 Divisadero St.] to be built but there are some people who want a high affordability percentage rate — 33 percent — and that would absolutely kill the project,” said Brown. “You have projects in the Mission District where there is a 25 percent affordable requirement and they are not being built.”

Should Brown’s legislation fail to pass at the Board of Supervisors, the affordability rate for 650 Divisadero St. would revert to 13.5 percent.

However, Brown assured the commission on Thursday that this would likely not be the case.

“I think it will pass. Most of my colleagues have been very supportive of me being able to take it to 20 percent and then getting the agreements and the assurance from the developers that they would build,” said Brown.

Affordable Divis has indicated that the group plans to file an appeal of 650 Divisadero St.

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