Last year, a more development-friendly council had approved a gatekeeper request for converting 32 apartments at 333 N. Rengstorff Ave. into 102 small, affordable condos. The project is unique in that the developer is hoping to sell the condos in the $400,000 range, with some going as low as $320,000.
"Think of it two decades from now, when people cannot afford to live in single-family homes," said a representative for the developer, San Mateo-based Nazareth Enterprises Inc., in what seemed like a make-or-break plea Tuesday night. "It's not a project that will turn the area into a high-end, exclusive area."
Before the meeting, several council members indicated that the project could be rejected because the request for R4 zoning was too extreme. Several said the large, high-density building didn't fit in the neighborhood of town homes, single-family homes and low-density apartments.
The developer said that while he was willing to make compromises, no redevelopment project was viable without a zoning change to allow a new, bigger building.
Last year's council was generally supportive of the project, but Tuesday's action seemed to reflect the new course of the current council, which voted in favor of the densest form of R3 zoning, allowing up to 64 units.
Whether the project will get final approval in the future remains to be seen. Council member Tom Means wondered out loud Tuesday if the project would be killed outright or face a "slow death."
Likening it to the nearby Mayfield development, Monta Loma resident Elna Tymes said the tall building on 1.72 acres would look like a fortress. Council member Jac Siegel said he disliked the hotel-style hallways. The proposed building is slated to include a recreation center with gym equipment.
The 32 existing apartments have rents in the $1,400-a-month range. The developer claimed the buildings were old, poorly built, and beyond repair. Siegel countered by saying that anything could be fixed, it was just a matter of money.
"I think this is very much about location," said council member Ronit Bryant. She said the location was not pedestrian-friendly enough — for example, there is no planting strip along Rengstorff Ave. — to justify the high density.
Others expressed concern about the traffic on Rengstorff Avenue, with Siegel saying a person can't cross the street "without taking your life into your own hands."
The new restrictions on the project size may mean higher prices for the condos. As for the predicted $400,000 price tag for each condo, Siegel said the developer couldn't guarantee that price to begin with.
Of particular concern to Bryant was the potential loss of 32 trees in the courtyard and around the building that had probably been growing for 40 years. In response, council member Margaret Abe-Koga mentioned the arborist report, which said only two trees were worth saving. Bryant said that her experience on the parks and recreation commission told her that arborist reports should be taken with a grain of salt.