|A litany of fiery statements Tuesday night did not stop the City Council from cleaning the slate at 450 Whisman Road, rejecting a proposal for 64 homes on the Hetch Hetchy right of way.
The council sided with neighbors and city staff who wanted a major redesign of the project to improve its architecture and lower its density. The move particularly incensed Hetch Hetchy's landowners, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.
"We're here to express our high level of frustration of your staff's recommendation to reject the project," said Gary Dowd, director of real estate for the SFPUC.
"After years of meetings, expenditures of hundreds of thousands of dollars," the city's desires "have been a moving target," he said. "The project needs to be released from the chains of bureaucracy."
Dowd said the housing project would have helped fund the commission's $4.5 billion rebuild of the Hetch Hetchy water pipeline, which runs under the site at 450 Whisman.
"Monies from the sale of this property go directly to that effort," Dowd said.
Developer Bruce Burman said he had followed the rules as he went over the numerous changes he'd made to the project in response to the council and city staff's directions, including lowering building heights from 34 to 29 feet, adding a central park and breaking up the 58 row homes into smaller groups.
Despite those changes, members of the council's slower-growth majority said the developer was essentially coming back with "the same thing," and some worried that unless it was rejected the pattern would continue, which is "one definition of insanity," said member Laura Macias.
Nevertheless, city staff recommended denial of the project, making several "qualitative" recommendations with which the City Council agreed: better architecture, 100 foot building widths, 25 foot spaces between buildings, reduction of the third story massing on the rear of the buildings, reconfiguration of the single-family homes and the 12 row homes facing the northwest perimeter.
"Meeting the guidelines of a development is not an entitlement," said council member Jac Siegel.
Burman took issue with the city's dislike of the project's new architecture, saying that it wasn't much different from the previous design that was approved.
Council member Ronit Bryant said the problem was that it was essentially a "miniaturized version" of the previous design. Council member Nick Galiotto said the reduced height of the second and third story caused the dormers to not look as pronounced, which was why the design was called "monotonous" by the design review committee.
In response to the criticisms, Burman's lawyer, Owen Bird, said the issue wasn't about design, but governance and the "winds of change" in city politics since the project started in 2005. It was a "lecture on governance" that Siegel said he did not appreciate.
"Change is a risk a developer assumes," Galiotto said, "Shake the dice and see what happens in November."
Also in response to Bird's comments, city attorney Michael Martello said, "It may be convenient to say that, but that's really not what's going on here. The project has always been like trying to fit 10 pounds into a five-pound bag."
Macias offered a similar metaphor, saying working with the difficult site layout was "like trying to fit into a size 2 dress."
But several environmental activists supported the project.
"This represents sustainable development and should be approved," said Marilyn Drive resident Tamara Colby. The project would reduce commuting and auto emissions, she said, which are "the fastest growing source of greenhouse gases in the state of California."
Another speaker said he was "disgusted" by the neighborhood association's "witch hunt" against the developer.
In a slideshow presentation, Lisa Matichak, president of the newly created Wagon Wheel Neighborhood Association, compared the project's density and height with the rest of the neighborhood of one- and two-story homes.
"The issue with three stories is, there's a whole lot more windows looking down" into the adjacent backyards, Matichak said. "We just want something that fits the neighborhood."
Council member Matt Pear made a motion to modify the project based on staff recommendations, which failed 3-4. Members Siegel, Bryant, Macias and Margaret Abe-Koga said they wanted to see something totally new, and the council unanimously voted to deny the project "without prejudice," so that it can come back anytime. A majority seemed to agree that the developer should not have to pay any more fees when he returns.
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