HANC's Letter to MOHCD Regarding the McDonald's Site

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Although San Francisco’s planned purchase of the McDonald’s site at 730 Stanyan Street has not been completed, and proposals for development of the site are still in their early stages, HANC believes it is important for the neighborhood to be heard as early as possible in the process. Therefore, our Housing and Land Use Chair sent the following letter to the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development:

Dear Mr. Flannery,

The Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council (HANC) has the following comments on the proposed purchase of the current McDonald’s restaurant site at 730 Stanyan Street by the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development (MOHCD) and the proposed development of this site for affordable housing.

 

These comments are offered in the context of the very limited information so far made public about the size, type, design, target population, etc. for this affordable housing development.

Support for Land Purchase

Firstly, we wholeheartedly welcome the city’s proposed purchase of this site for affordable housing. Many people in our neighborhood have severe problems in finding a place to live that they can afford, and little new property has been built or purchased in the Haight-Ashbury for affordable housing in recent years.

We support MOHCD’s application for a Community Development Block Grant from HUD to purchase this property to be used to construct affordable housing. However, we do recognize the potential environmental and historic-preservation impacts of development on this site, and we request that the design process fully considers these.

MOHCD’s request for public comment as required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA) represents the first chance that community organizations or the public have had to learn about the city’s plans for this site or to provide any input. Therefore, we have taken this opportunity to comment more broadly on the proposed project, as well as its potential environmental and historic-preservation impacts.

What Our Community Needs

As the city moves forward with purchasing the land, there are some key principles that we trust MOHCD will respect:

  • The Haight-Ashbury community must be involved throughout the planning, design and construction processes. Two previous successful affordable housing developments in our neighborhood—at Mercy Terrace (Harkness Hospital) and Parkview Commons (Poly High)—were guided by community advisory committees. At the November 7 public meeting, MOHCD Director Kate Hartley stated that the city “welcomes public input and is happy to have a community advisory committee for this development.”
  • As promised by MOHCD Director Kate Hartley at the November 7 public meeting, 100% of residential units in the development must be permanently affordable.
  • All residential units in the new development should be affordable to people with incomes less than 80% of the area median income. While HANC recognizes that the extreme pressures on housing in San Francisco have caused difficulties for many people, including those of moderate income, the fact remains that low-income people have been squeezed the hardest and have the lowest provision of new housing. MOHCD will be aware that the AMI for the HUD Metro Fair Market Rent Area (HMFA) is skewed upwards because San Francisco is pooled with Marin and San Mateo counties. Opportunities to build new housing for low-income San Franciscans are very limited, and capping eligibility at 80% of the HMFA AMI will ensure the city significantly increases the supply of housing in our neighborhood for those most squeezed by our housing crisis.
  • Beyond income-level criteria, the city should give preference to residents living or working in the Haight-Ashbury. The majority of retail and service employees at Haight Street businesses do not earn enough to rent market-rate apartments in San Francisco, and consequently many have long commutes from the East Bay. This has severe impacts both on the employees and on local businesses. Similarly, rising rents result in the permanent displacement of many neighborhood residents, especially those on fixed incomes, when they lose their current homes, such as through no-fault evictions. Reserving a portion of the new units for low-income people working or recently living in the Haight-Ashbury will improve our community’s resilience. The city’s Neighborhood Resident Housing Preference scheme meets some of this need, but the city should extend this preference to low-income people employed in the Haight-Ashbury and those recently displaced from the area.
  • This is a comparatively large site for a dense urban area. There is enough space to build housing for two or more different “target populations” of low-income people. Building housing for a variety of people will better integrate these residents into the community. The neighborhood’s critical need for affordable housing for families, seniors and young single people must be reflected in the final project proposal.
  • The Haight-Ashbury has a critical need for both services and permanent affordable housing for young homeless people, including those “aging out” of foster care. A significant portion of the new housing developed on this site should be set aside for young people who were formerly homeless or who are leaving foster care.
  • Because of escalating commercial rents, it has been much harder for organizations that provide supportive services for homeless youth in the Haight-Ashbury to find permanent locations to operate from. Without a permanent location to visit, young homeless people have much more trouble accessing supportive services. This results in worse outcomes and more prolonged homelessness for these young people, and greater stress on the rest of the neighborhood. In addition, formerly homeless young people moving into permanent affordable housing will also require supportive services to make the transition successful. For both these reasons, the development should include dedicated space for non-profit organizations working with homeless and vulnerably housed youth.
  • It’s important that we build affordable housing that people can make their long-term home. As such, the unit size, layout and unit mix in the new development must be livable and reflect the needs of low-income people seeking housing in our neighborhood. This site is not a location in which to experiment with micro-units for transient occupancy.
  • This is a very prominent site, where Haight Street meets Golden Gate Park, and the size and design of the development will have a major impact on residents and park users, including the tourists who provide much of the income for local merchants. The development must be designed carefully to complement the neighborhood’s historic architecture and respect the adjacent park.
  • The ground floor of the development will likely be assigned to non-residential uses. Priority for the ground-floor space should be given to community uses such as community-serving non-profit organizations, health and social services and community meeting spaces. Any commercial use should be focused on providing affordable premises for local businesses and formula retail tenants should be excluded.
  • The site is too valuable to our community to be left unused for years. We urge the city to consider innovative methods that could shorten the construction phase. Also, we strongly favor interim use of the site by a non-profit group serving unhoused people in our neighborhood. This might include interim reuse of the current restaurant building and/or temporary buildings located on the current parking lot for supportive services and/or temporary housing.

Potential Environmental and Historic Preservation Impacts

At this stage, MOHCD has provided very limited information about possible building heights, unit counts and a suggestion of “massing”. Therefore, we can only assess the likely environmental and historic-preservation impacts of a future affordable housing development in very general terms.

HANC is confident that, with the right design, affordable housing can be constructed on this site in one or more 50-foot, 5-story residential buildings that will have a less than significant impact on environmental quality and neighboring historic resources. This will still require careful planning to minimize impacts to neighboring properties and Golden Gate Park, and to address issues arising from construction.

We are concerned that the 65-foot, 7-story alternative may have significant environmental impacts and degrade the historic value of the west end of Golden Gate Park and the neighboring Stanyan Park Hotel. A development of this height and bulk would be the largest building fronting Golden Gate Park and would substantially change the character of the area. HANC does support maximizing the amount of affordable housing constructed in our neighborhood, but only where this is appropriately balanced with preserving the neighborhood’s character and environmental quality.

Given that both Haight and Stanyan Streets are transit preferential streets, special attention must be paid to the use of automobiles at the site. The site should be designed from the start to be “transit oriented” with off-street parking at the site kept to a minimum or banned altogether. The mobility needs of low-income families, seniors and youth can be accommodated by public transit and the site must be planned from the very start to be transit-oriented.

HANC looks forward to reading MOHCD’s response to public comments, and to working with the city and our community in shaping new affordable housing at this site over the coming months and years.

Sincerely,

Rupert Clayton

HANC Housing and Land Use Chair

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