Sunday, April 29, 2012

Bad news for SF: John King is "excited"

When John King gets turned on, it's bad news for San Francisco. King's latest orgasm-in-print is over the awful highrise proposed for Market and Van Ness.

King's tumescent prose on the building---"a lithe figure in a slit gown of sheer glass," and a "soft slender form," etc.---says more about the aging journalist than the building pictured above, which is a solid 34 stories high.

Like our trendy local planners, King advocates the Vancouverization of  San Francisco, with residential highrises and "stacking new homes in the sky." (Not everyone in Vancouver is happy with what's been done there.)

Without naming it, King refers to the awful Market and Octavia Plan that allows this atrocity: 

...a 2007 rezoning lifted heights on the premise that the Market-Van Ness intersection should be "a visual landmark" marking the shift from the city's dense northeast quadrant to the lower, more residential districts to the west.

King puts "a visual landmark" in quotes because he's probably quoting a Planning Department document that puts a smiley face on a plan that rezones thousands of properties---elminating setbacks and back yards, raising height limits, and of course restricting parking---in the middle of the city to encourage population density as per the fashionable "smart growth" doctrine. In other words, it's a developer's dream.

There will be more highrises at that unfortunate intersection, as this map from the Market and Octavia Plan makes clear.

Maybe King got turned on because the building is near one of his earlier loves and another city planning fiasco: the awful Octavia Boulevard expressway.

Even an infatuated King wonders about the impact of making that intersection's notorious wind-tunnel even worse with another highrise:

This part of town also is a wind tunnel, especially in the afternoon. Our ethereal shaft is now going through environmental reviews, with the design team exploring how to remedy the non-ethereal downdrafts. You wonder why, if high winds might be a fatal flaw, the corner was rezoned for towers to begin with.

Yes, one wonders. Even though the Market/Octavia Plan has been on the table since 2004, District 5 Diary is the only place you'll ever find any criticism of that creation of a free-fire zone for developers, because "smart growth" is fashionable in "progressive" political circles. Naturally this plan restricts parking for the 4,400 new housing units planned and provides no money for an already-maxed out Muni. Let the 10,000 new residents ride bikes!

The M/O Plan documents make it clear that making the wind tunnel there even windier won't hold up this or other highrises planned for that area:

An exception to this requirement may be permitted, but only if and to the extent that the project sponsor demonstrates that the building or addition cannot be shaped or wind baffling measures cannot be adopted without unduly restricting the development potential of the building site being considered (pages 3, 4).

The ultimate Planning roll-over: "without unduly restricting the development potential" of that property, which has already been zoned for skyscrapers! One suspects that "project sponsors" won't have any trouble demonstrating to the Planning Dept. that the "development potential" is "unduly" restricted.

But we shouldn't worry about the densification of San Francisco and a bunch of ugly new highrises creeping toward our neighborhoods:

The architectural stakes have been raised during the past decade in San Francisco and other large cities, and that's exciting. There's value in seeing the ways that talented outsiders respond to our local terrain. At the same time, brand names and would-be icons won't make or break us. This city and the Bay Area are defined less by specific buildings than the view around the corner, the neighborhood scene we encounter along the way. And as the local economy revives, it's a balance we don't want to lose.

Yes, these ugly new buildings and overpopulation can't take away "the view around the corner"---except when they do. Losing the city's architectural and population "balance" is just what this kind of development means and, oddly, what a Panglossian John King finds "exciting."

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At 7:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This tower kinda reminds me of Hitler's "Welthauptstadt Germania" without transit.

At 7:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When MO Plan went before the Planning Commission our neighborhood, situated off 11th west of Mission, begged the Commissioners to come to our area and take a look at what a 400 foot tower would look like 50 feet away from 35 foot residential apartments. We asked them to walk the blocks that would be so very close to these skyscraper towers. Not one commission took up the offer. The "fix" was already in. Thousands of people living in the new towers would not need cars yet without doubt they will own them and commute out of the city to jobs to the south..where the heck will they part those cars? The planning staff responded that new residents would not own cars, how did they know that? They never said.

At 12:15 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

They don't know. It's all based on wishful thinking. But by the time the city is gridlocked with this and the Parkmerced and Treasure Island projects, these jerks will be retired on their lavish pensions based on their six-figure salaries.

At 3:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've always found it completely laughable to think that people who can afford to buy half-million dollar condos (and maybe I'm lowballing the pricing) are not going to own cars. I just don't believe it for a minute. There will be a few carless folks, but they'll be in a tiny majority of owners/residents of these projects.

At 7:11 PM, Blogger alai said...

Maybe they will and maybe they won't. Who cares? Where they keep them is their problem, not mine. If they want to keep them on the street, the city can charge them for parking-- so much the better for the city. Just let SFPark do its job ensuring that there are free spaces for people who need them. Will they be expensive? Probably so-- but I'd rather have expensive parking and cheaper housing than the other way around.

At 7:32 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Traffic on city streets is the city's problem. Adequate parking---one parking space for every new housing unit---is better than inadequate parking.

The housing projected in this plan won't be "cheap." Except for the freeway parcels the city got from the state, housing encouraged in the M/O Plan will be market-rate.

SF Park has something to do with free parking? Only because their mission is to eliminate it.

At 9:23 PM, Blogger alai said...

Traffic IS the city's problem-- and minimizing the number of cars around helps deal with it. Parking is not, since it is both provided and used by private parties who can work it out on their own.

Is "adequate" parking better? Sure. Just like a big apartment is better than a small one, and high-end appliances are better than cheap ones. Doesn't mean the city should mandate that.

Won't be "cheap"? It'll be cheaper than it would be if it had included parking, and there will be more of it. Yes, it's true that housing in SF will never be as cheap as it is in Modesto-- but that doesn't mean that the city should be actively preventing lower-cost housing.

And I meant "free spaces" as in "unoccupied spaces", not "gratis spaces".


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