Mission tech office expansion proposal sent back for changes by the Planning Commission
Updated: Sep 19, 2019
Planning Commissioners and community members expressed skepticism about the 2300 Harrison Street proposal’s use of a state housing law to expand the tech office space to nearly 100,000 square feet. The site was formerly manufacturing space and is now leased by Lyft and sub-leased to other tech companies.
The Planning Commissioners heard mostly opposition and concern from a dozen neighborhood small business owners, residents, and advocates regarding a proposal to expand the Lyft tech offices on Harrison Street to nearly one hundred thousand square feet before sending the project back for significant changes.
If approved as proposed, the new office space could house more than 700 hundred tech workers. The proposal also included 24 housing units, comprising well under half of the project square footage.
“I am not ready to support this project today,” Commission President Melgar began, citing concerns about the current proposal’s potential impacts on nearby blue-collar buildings.
“People are still providing blue-collar jobs and it’s important to protect [these industrial spaces],” she said, “And I don’t want to do that to the businesses back there.” Melgar, like other Commissioners, also suggested the garage be moved to Harrison Street to avoid conflict with the blue collar businesses, and to improve the housing affordability of the project.
The Commissioners began this latest round of deliberation on the project by wading through a long and complex explanation from Planning Department staff regarding the unusual legalities of this proposal -- which seeks to use a state housing law to build principally additional tech office space.
That housing law, called the State Density Bonus Law, was being used by the development team to demand the City include three exemptions and three waivers for the 2300 Harrison Street project. The project would also add 24 new housing units, three at the “very-low income” level, and an additional affordable unit at a much higher income level.
The building’s existing nearly sixty-eight thousand square feet of office space had previously been manufacturing space, which was converted to office space -- first illegally and later legalized through a City process, a point not lost on the Commissioners.
Neighboring blue-collar businesses
At the Aug. 22 hearing, a number of blue-collar and production business owners operating on Treat Avenue spoke against the project, asking for amendments to the proposal so it wouldn’t impede their businesses.
“We’re all in Production, Distribution, and Repair in some way on that block,” Chris Lawrence of Southern Pacific Brewing told the commissioners, referring to the blue-collar zoned businesses (PDR) that dominate this historic manufacturing area. “There’s a lot of loading, a lot of trucks, semis, crane deliveries in my business, kegs going in and out,” he added.
Like others at the meeting, Lawrence asked for a number of adjustments to the project, including moving the main entrance from Treat Avenue to Harrison Street to avoid impeding the blue-collar businesses work flow.
“The negative impact would be huge if they’re allowed to put the parking garage entrance on Treat,” echoed Chris Yerke, who runs a business across the street that restores historic local housing stock.
Yerke said he shared Lawrence’s concern that future tenants of the new housing units were likely to complain about being unable to easily get out of their garage and through the truck and delivery work in front, and to also complain about ongoing noise from these blue-collar businesses, if the housing went forward as currently proposed.
“Because we make noise; that’s just part of the way we do business,” Yerke said.
The Mission Area Plan prioritizes retaining blue-collar spaces in the neighborhood, a point raised with the Commissioners by Peter Papadopoulos of the Mission Economic Development Agency.
Office expansion concerns
Commissioner Hillis said that he would like to see the office space in the project balanced by additional affordable housing units. “It’s a benefit to the project having an office there,” said Hillis, who added that he’d like to see the project resolved with “a greater percentage of affordable housing in the units above.”
In addition to the Commissioner’s concerns regarding the office space, several other commissioners expressed misgivings about the residential portion design, notably the “nesting” of bedrooms within the housing units. In this “nesting” model, bedrooms are not separated from the rest of the apartment, considered an inferior form of housing development.
Neighboring Mission small businesses and Mission residents and advocates for working-class families said they were unimpressed with both the tech project and the elusive conduct of the development team, with only a few speakers in support from the Carpenter’s Local 22 and San Francisco Housing Action Coalition, who cited the need for jobs and housing.
Tech office project alternatives
Larisa Pedroncelli, a Mission neighbor and business owner working with the United to Save the Mission coalition (USM) told Commissioners that USM had asked that the office space be used for community-serving uses such as nonprofit or cultural space offices instead of tech offices. Alternately, she said the project should offer significantly more benefits to its other areas such as increased affordable housing units at very low income rates.
Attorney Carlos Bocanegra, a Mission resident and member of United to Save the Mission, disputed the project sponsor and Planning Department’s application of the State Density Bonus Law. The state code reads that if a project contains “at least 15% very low income, 30% lower income or 30% moderate income units, three incentives or concessions are required.”
This would mean that the 2300 Harrison St proposal does not appear to meet the three incentive threshold, since it doesn’t offer 15% very low income units.
Community advocates acknowledged that over time the project team had made a number of design improvements to the project to help it fit the context of the neighborhood. But the community members remained opposed to adding a principally tech office project unless the development offered significant community benefits.
The Commission once again called for a pause in the development proposal with a unanimous vote that asked the project team to rethink its space design, street configuration, and affordability before an October 10 re-hearing.
“Part of the reason why we’ve repeatedly heard this [project] is because we’ve asked for changes and they haven’t come back,” said Commissioner Johnson, who concluded by reciting a list of Commission concerns they hope to see addressed before the project returns.