Possibly the most praised residential project of its size in recent memory was approved by the City Council Tuesday night; 193 apartments that may now replace the San Antonio Inn on El Camino Real.
"This is just outstanding, a tremendous improvement to the neighborhood," said Doug DeLong of Advocates for Affordable Housing. He echoed the comments of several others when he called it "a very excellent project."
No opposition was evident at the meeting but city staff indicated an unusual level of support from neighbors, city planning commissioners and multiple city departments.
Because of a disagreement over a last-minute condition the council imposed on the project, members ended up voting 4-3 to approve the project by Palo Alto-based Urban Housing Group. Members Margaret Abe-Koga, Tom Means and John Inks said they opposed a condition that increased the affordable units proposed for the project from six to eight.
The four-story complex is planned on 2.9 acres at 2600 and 2650 El Camino Real, situated between Lozano's car wash and a CVS pharmacy at the corner of El Camino Real and San Antonio Road. The buildings are set back from the street behind a 10-foot wide sidewalk and most of the 296 parking spaces would go underground in a two-level garage. Amenities include a "bike hub," a fitness studio, a clubhouse and two major courtyards, one of which has a pool and the other a barbecue area. The "market rate" rents were not disclosed.
"I think it's obvious that Urban Housing has been listening to what's going on with the Grand Boulevard initiative," said council member Laura Macias, referring to efforts to revamp El Camino Real. "There's so much that is going to be an improvement here."
Many said they welcomed replacement of a 60-unit motel called the San Antonio Inn, an auto shop building next door and two large paved lots, one of which is owned by the San Francisco Utilities Commission because the Hetch-Hetchy aqueduct runs underneath it. The developer promised to provide $200,000 in park fees up front to help the city build a park and trail on the Hetch-Hetchy right of way, which will connect El Camino Real to Fayette Way. The developer is also required to pay $3.8 million in park fees that could go towards the park and trail, estimated to cost $1.4 million.
"This area has become a dumping ground for the surrounding neighborhood for a long, long time," said resident Don Ball, who has an office near the site. "Various nefarious activities have been conducted back there, police can confirm that. They've (the SFPUC) left it in disrepair for a number of years and I'm sure they'll continue to do that."
The project boasts the highest rating for environmental friendliness of any residential project approved so far, according to city staff. It received 130 points on the green-point rating scale, compared to 110 for the Madera apartment project at the former Minton's lumber site and 100 points for the Merlone Geier apartments to be built on the other side of San Antonio Road.
Extensive bicycle facilities helped achieve the high rating, including space for bicycle repair and maintenance, bike storage and a small lounge area for bicyclists. Residents of the project also receive free public transit passes for a year. Two electric vehicle charging stations will be built, and two vehicles from the Zipcar car-sharing service will have their own designated spaces.
Disagreement over affordable housing fees
Urban Housing Group proposed six affordable units as part of the project, and while council members said they were grateful for the offer, they upped the count to eight units as a last-minute condition of approval.
"I will not be supporting this motion strictly on BMR unit count," said council member Abe-Koga, referring to the eight below market rate housing units specified in the approved motion by member Laura Macias.
Abe-Koga, Inks and Means have opposed placing the burden of affordable housing development on rental housing developers as the council is also considering an affordable housing fee on retail development. In a recent study session several council members indicated support for a fee equal to 4.6 percent of the project's value if developers won't build 10 percent of the project as affordable units.
"What you are doing is you are taking money out of people's revenue stream," Inks said. "It actually increases the cost of housing in the city."
DeLong said the number of affordable units should be even higher.
"If units were going to be proposed, 19 at 65 percent AMI or 12 at 50 might be a little more appropriate," DeLong said, referring to rents affordable for those making 65 and 50 percent of the area's median income.
Abe-Koga says she sees more of a connection between office development and the need for affordable housing, and wants to increase housing fees on commercial development.
There's a chance the project could be subject to a new housing fee if the fee is approved before the project is complete.
"There's a bit of a game of chicken at this point," said Mayor Kasperzak, adding he was "confident" such a fee would be passed.