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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