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Balboa Reservoir Community Advisory Committee Passes Development Parameters

Courtesy of San Francisco Planning Department

Building parameters for the proposed 17-acre Balboa Reservoir housing development were passed by the Balboa Reservoir Community Advisory Committee at its Sept. 12 meeting.

The committee’s sixteenth meeting in twelve months featured final discussion of guidelines that will be used in selecting a developer along with public comment representative of the two sides of the regional housing debate.

The 31 final principles outline features that a successful bid will need to take into account, including affordable housing requirements, transportation planning and a definition of the project’s relation to City College of San Francisco among others.

The committee determined that the housing unit ratio will be 18 percent low-income, 15 percent low to moderate income and 17 percent moderate income.

Opponents of the development at the meeting said they felt unheard because, although they matched the number of supporters who spoke, the committee passed its recommendations with a seven-to-one vote.

Westwood Park Association representative Kate Favetti voted against the plan based on the association’s “long standing” concerns.

Favetti’s comments were in line with a Westwood Park Association letter from June calling for a 500-unit maximum, a one-to-one ratio of housing to parking spaces in addition to the preservation of the college’s existing parking capacity, a 28-foot height limit along Plymouth Avenue and a two-acre park as part of the development.

“These are proposed development parameters, not scripture about what needs to be done. They will be given to the developer and there will be some give and take,” said Howard Chung, a council member representing the Ocean Avenue Association.

The council exists to negotiate the project’s unique situation of building housing on public land as part of San Francisco’s Public Land for Housing program.

Originally constructed in 1957 for use as a water storage facility, the land is owned by the Public Utilities Commission and used as a parking lot for the college.

Much of the debate at the September meeting centered on the increased transportation demand the project would cause on Ocean Avenue and the Balboa Park Station Area, one the most critical transportation hubs in San Francisco.

While some feel that the transportation system should be fixed before housing is built, others argued that the need for housing is so dire that both housing and transportation problems must be addressed at the same time.

Although pro-development advocates once proposed building 6,000 units at a meeting, speakers at the September meeting were mostly residents or City College faculty and the number of proposed units has dropped into the hundreds rather than the thousands.

District Seven Supervisor Norman Yee showed toward the end of the meeting and voiced his support for the group’s year long process.

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Will Carruthers/Ingleside-Excelsior Light

“My hope when I created the CAC was to make sure that regardless of where people stood with their opinions, at least we would hear it. I think that has been done,” Yee said, noting that the result was a consensus in which no one is completely happy with the final parameters.

The committee’s parameters will be sent to the Board of Supervisors for use in selecting a developer during the bidding process, according to Emily Lesk, an employee from the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development.

BART Board President Tom Radulovich endorsed the committee’s recommendations for its mature understanding of the planning process.

While keeping hundreds of parking spaces like the Westwood Park Association suggested would be possible, paying for spaces would take away money that could be used for other public benefits like affordable housing units or additional open space, and increase traffic congestion in the area by attracting more drivers to the development.

If there are lots of parking spaces, Radulovich said, the development’s new residents will be self-selecting car drivers rather than bicyclists and public transit riders.

The project is expected to be approved for construction in 2019 or 2020, according to a Planning Department timeline.

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