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Medical library may become condos

Rendering of proposed additions to the library at Sacramento and Webster.

A PLAN TO upscale the landmark Lane Medical Library at Sacramento and Webster into 24 condominiums — which so far has found smooth sailing through the city’s planning apparatus — has run into a roadblock. It is being appealed to the Board of Supervisors, with a hearing scheduled on February 6.

After serving as a medical library for more than a century, the classical structure built in 1912 was sold in 2018 when California Pacific Medical Center moved to its new home on Van Ness Avenue. Since then it has been an event facility.

Now Gokovacandir LLC proposes gutting the interior of the building and adding towers to the east and south sides of the building that would extend to 87 feet — more than double the height limit in the neighborhood. The structures would include four four-bedroom units, nine three-bedroom units, 10 two-bedroom units and one one-bedroom unit, plus 26 underground parking spaces.

Sacramento Street elevation, courtesy of BAR Architects.

The project has been helped along by new state laws that encourage the construction of more housing, allowing developers to build beyond current zoning restrictions and giving them a “density bonus” if the project includes below-market-rate units. The 2395 Sacramento project would include three “affordable” units, qualifying it for five additional units as a density bonus.

In his appeal, neighbor Jonathan Clark challenges the Planning Department’s approval of the library conversion.

Clark’s lawyers argue that the city “has embarked upon a dangerous, far-reaching and blatantly unlawful interpretation” of environmental laws governing the project. They write: “The proposed project will jeopardize the historically significant Lane Medical Library, which is listed as City Landmark 115, by placing an 87-foot tall building on one side of the historic landmark and a 72-foot building on another side — all in a zone with a 40-foot height limit.”

Webster Street elevation, courtesy of BAR Architects.

The addition on the Webster Street side would sit between the library and Temple Sherith Israel at California and Webster, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. The medical library has also been nominated for the National Register. Both buildings were designed by noted architect Albert Pissis. A three-panel mural by Arthur Mathews, one of early California’s most respected artists, would be removed, along with the rest of the library reading room, as part of the project.

Critics say the project exemplifies the problems created by speeding projects through the city planning process and using density bonuses where historic resources are involved.

UPDATE: Supervisors approve redevelopment of medical library

MORE: “Will all new housing be exempt from environmental review?

Bidding wars and other myths

REAL ESTATE | NINA HATVANY

There are many myths about the San Francisco real estate market — many of them not true.

MYTH #1: Homes are still going for 10 to 15 percent above asking in bidding wars.

The truth is, the competition for San Francisco condominiums and homes has drastically slowed down as inventory has increased. “Bidding wars,” while they still exist, are less common, and if there is competition, it is more likely two or three other offers rather than 10. The market in the fall tends to dip slightly in prices because of the glut of inventory that hits right after Labor Day and then is slow to get absorbed as the holidays approach.

There is still a good amount of inventory sitting, and buyers become less motivated over the holidays to deal with finding a home between their travels and hosting family. In the spring, prices historically tend to rise again as the market picks up. While we can’t predict what will happen next year, the current combination of low interest rates, higher inventory and economic uncertainty makes this a great time to jump into the usually hyper-competitive San Francisco market.

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The lure of Fillmore Street

The home at 2561 Washington is between Fillmore Street and Alta Plaza Park.

REAL ESTATE | PATRICK BARBER

A PAIR OF recent home sales, both on Washington Street, highlight the fact that buyers are willing to sacrifice extra square footage for a highly walkable location.

The single-family homes at 2561 Washington Street and 3990 Washington Street each sold for $9.1 million during the second week of September. Though the two commanded an identical price, they differ greatly in size, with 3990 Washington boasting 10,000 square feet of living space — nearly double that of 2561 Washington, which clocks in at about 5,500 square feet. The smaller home changed hands in a brisk three days, while the larger took more than six months to sell.

A few facts explain why a substantially smaller home sold for the same price as a much larger one — and did it so much faster. First, 2561 Washington Street, which had been in the same family for decades, features beautifully proportioned rooms and a desirable open floor plan. Also, the home needs work, which offers the new owners the opportunity to re-envision it to their tastes and specifications.

Finally, there is the classic real estate mantra of location, location, location. While 3990 Washington Street sits on the far edge of Presidio Heights, which would make it necessary for owners to drive frequently, 2561 Washington is barely half a block from Fillmore Street, an easy stroll to dozens of local restaurants, boutiques and services.

Only one local home sold last month

REAL ESTATE | PATRICK BARBER

Single-family home sales in the neighborhood reached a decade low during the last month, with only one single-family home selling in Pacific Heights, Lower Pacific Heights, Presidio Heights and Cow Hollow from mid-June to mid-July.

The summer months are traditionally the slowest time for real estate activity in San Francisco. But even by seasonal standards, market activity this summer has slowed considerably, with single-family home sales in the neighborhood declining to the lowest level since the housing market bust in 2008. The prolonged shortage of offerings on the market in the city is largely to blame for declining sales.

The one property that did change hands is an impressive example of modern architecture and amenities. The home at 2833 Vallejo Street (above and below) sold for $17 million in late June. Just completed this year, the ultramodern residence also offers picture-perfect views from its roof deck of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Palace of Fine Arts.

2833 Vallejo Street

Unity Church may become a pot shop

Unity Church (center) is in contract to sell its longtime home at 2222 Bush Street.

UNITY CHURCH has entered into a contract to sell its longtime home in the Victorian building at 2222 Bush Street — reportedly to a marijuana retailer — if the church can find a new location within the next year that is near mass transit lines and better-suited to its needs.

Church members voted earlier to hire a commercial real estate broker to explore the sale of the building — which is zoned for retail as part of the Fillmore neighborhood commercial district — and the purchase of a less expensive home that would be more accessible to its members.

A church leader confirmed the contract, but declined to identify the buyer. Records in the city’s new Office of Cannabis show the Vapor Room has submitted an application for a retail cannabis permit at 2222 Bush.

On August 18, the church was the location for what was billed as the world’s first Free Weed Comedy Show. For $35, attendees got to hear three local stand-up comics, plus two free drinks and, before the show outside on Bush Street, “a small amount of free marijuana to take home (no onsite consumption).” Munchies were available for purchase.

“It went really well,” said comedian and organizer Adam Hartle. “No plans yet to do another in San Fran, but maybe one day in the future.”

City sues Fillmore Heritage Center developer

The Fillmore Heritage Center’s public spaces are empty, and no change is in sight.

CITY ATTORNEY Dennis Herrera filed suit this morning against developer Michael E. Johnson — who built the Fillmore Heritage Center  — for more than $6.5 million the city claims Johnson owes for a loan that helped build the complex.

“The years of excuses are over. Time’s up,” Herrera said in a statement announcing the lawsuit. “San Francisco taxpayers need to be made whole.”

For a few lively years beginning in 2007, the 50,000-square-foot space at Fillmore and Eddy housed Yoshi’s jazz club and restaurant and the 1300 on Fillmore lounge and restaurant, plus a gallery, screening room and garage. Yoshi’s closed in 2014 and briefly became The Addition, which Johnson ran himself before it too closed. 1300 on Fillmore closed in 2017 and now operates at the airport. The city took over the complex in 2017 when Johnson defaulted on the loan and has not yet figured out what to do with the empty commercial spaces.

“The city made this loan in good faith and has given Mr. Johnson every chance to pay back San Francisco taxpayers,” Herrera said. “San Francisco has worked with Mr. Johnson at every turn. Mr. Johnson has never held up his end of the bargain.

At a public meeting in May 2016, Johnson told the audience he had, in effect, had the project thrust upon him. He noted that he was primarily a housing developer when he was asked to become involved by local residents who wanted an African-American in charge.

He said it was a mistake for him to get involved in entertainment and restaurants. “It was a bad decision to go down that road,” he said.

After Yoshi’s on Fillmore declared bankruptcy, Johnson decided to run the club and restaurant himself. “I made another mistake,” he said. “We decided we’re going to try to resurrect it and create The Addition.”

He added: “We found out that operating that 28,000-square-foot facility was very difficult. We went six months. We couldn’t make it work. We had to close.”

The case is: City and County of San Francisco v. Michael E. Johnson et al., San Francisco Superior Court case no. CGC-18-568954, filed August 16, 2018.

CPMC scaling back local plans

The hospital finally relented to neighborhood pressure and relocated a generator at its entry.

CONTRARY TO EARLIER PLANS, California Pacific Medical Center now says it will scale back its operations in the neighborhood when a new state-of-the-art hospital opens next year on Van Ness Avenue.

Patients are expected to move into the new hospital in early March. The current hospital will then concentrate on ambulatory care for patients who do not require overnight hospitalization. That will bring a reduction from 2,100 to fewer than 500 employees at the existing hospital on Buchanan Street, administrators say, and an expected 30 percent reduction in the number of people who visit the current complex. There will be fewer doctors, too, and the emergency room will move to the new hospital.

Earlier plans had called for an expansion of facilities in the neighborhood, including a new building for ambulatory care on Sacramento Street, where the aging Stanford building now stands, and a new parking garage.

No more. “No new construction is planned,” said Ameet Nanda, a hospital administrator. “We’ve scaled back our plans.”

After the new Van Ness building opens, the hospital will close its facilities out on California Street, near Laurel Village. Some of those operations, including women’s health and breast cancer specialists, will move to 2333 Buchanan, along with some outpatient surgery. But the fourth, fifth and sixth floors of the current hospital will be left empty, administrators said.

Neighbors who attended a community hearing at the hospital on July 11 were skeptical that hospital administrators were telling the full story. “To think that three floors of prime property in this neighborhood are going to be left empty defies belief,” said one.

Plan to tear down St. Dominic’s School sidelined

A PROPOSAL TO tear down the historic St. Dominic’s School and replace it with a modern new pastoral center over a 59-car below-grade parking garage got a chilly reception from the Planning Commission on May 24.

The project came before the Planning Commission with a recommendation from its staff that the proposal be rejected as inconsistent with the city’s general plan, which calls for preserving historic buildings.

“The project would demolish a known historic resource that has been deemed to be individually eligible for listing on the California Register of Historical Resources because it represents the work of a master architect and possesses a high degree of artistic value,” the Planning Department report noted. “Demolishing the subject building would represent the irreversible loss of a historic resource with significant architectural and aesthetic value.”

Noting that the project was located in what is primarily a residential area, the report concluded: “The department does not find the project to be necessary or desirable, as there is ample space on the subject site, namely the surface parking lot at the northwest corner of the site, that would be better suited for redevelopment. Likewise, there are opportunities to adaptively reuse the existing school building or to construct a rear addition to the building, which would achieve many of the project sponsor’s programming objectives while retaining the building.”

The planning commissioners voted unanimously to continue the proposal indefinitely and told church leaders to come back with a comprehensive plan for the St. Dominic’s block that included the school building.

EARLIER: “St. Dominic’s plans 5 new buildings

How Pacific Heights got a 40-foot height limit

One of the flyers distributed during the fight for a 40-foot height limit.

By SUSAN SWARD

On a Friday in April of 1972, Charlotte Maeck got a purple postcard in the mail at her Pacific Heights residence that she initially thought was a hosiery advertisement from the I. Magnin department store.

On closer look, she saw it was a city announcement of a hearing the following Tuesday on a proposal to rezone the areas between Van Ness to Steiner and Union to Washington to permit structures of up to 160 feet — or 16 stories. Before then, height limits of 65 feet and 105 feet existed in various parts of Pacific Heights.

Maeck, who was busy raising her four children with her husband, orthopaedic surgeon Benjamin Maeck, in their home on Pacific Avenue, knew nothing about planning codes and had never been involved in the brawling political fights over development in San Francisco.

She came from Staten Island, where her grandfather founded a marine hardware company. “We were concerned about neighborhoods, and families watched what went on,’’ Maeck recalls. But “I knew nothing about zoning.”

That was about to change.

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Condos under $1 million increasingly rare

Rare: A unit at 3330 Clay Street is currently on the market for $629,000.

REAL ESTATE | PATRICK BARBER

Continuously tight supplies and robust buyer demand have pushed up real estate prices in San Francisco’s most desirable neighborhoods over the past few years, making properties that sell for less than $1 million an endangered species.

Between mid-February and mid-March, 19 condominiums changed hands in Lower Pacific Heights, Pacific Heights, Cow Hollow and Presidio Heights. More than half sold for more than the original price and only two sold for less than $1 million. Compare that with the same period last year, when six of the 22 condominiums — 27 percent — sold for less than $1 million.

Patrick Barber is president of Pacific Union.