“It’s Divisadero’s Turn, with Condos Proposed for Car Wash Site”
Development on Divisadero is getting divisive.
With Divisadero Street’s once-forlorn strip in the Western Addition starting to rival Valencia Street as a fashionable row of tastefully curated boutiques and acclaimed restaurants, a downtown developer is proposing to build a 158-unit development on the site of a gas station and car wash at Oak and Divisadero streets.
David Kriozere, whose family built the soaring One Rincon Hill towers at the entrance to the Bay Bridge, has filed an application to erect a pair of six-story condo buildings on a 41,000-square-foot parcel at 444 Divisadero, the Touchless Car Wash property. A two-unit Victorian building at 1060 Oak St. would be moved to a lot at the east end of the site to accommodate the development, and two small buildings would be knocked down.
The proposal, which would dwarf anything else in the neighborhood, is sparking criticism from affordable-housing proponents, who argue that the developer should be required to make at least 33 percent of the units affordable to low- and moderate-income residents.
The critics point to the fact that the developer is looking to take advantage of a pending rezoning that would remove density restrictions currently limiting builders to one unit per 800 square feet of land. The changes, which the Board of Supervisors is expected to pass Tuesday, would more than triple the number of units Kriozere’s group, Genesis Living, could erect on the property. It would not alter the current 65-foot height limit.
The proposed neighborhood commercial transit, or NCT, rezoning should be tied in with heightened affordable-housing requirements, according to Dean Preston, a tenants’ rights attorney who lives nearby. Currently, developers along Divisadero just have to meet minimum affordability requirements by building 12 percent of the project as affordable units on site or building the equivalent of 20 percent as affordable units at another site — or they must pay a fee equivalent to 20 percent.
Peter Cohen, who heads the Council of Community Housing Organizations, said he would be open to an even denser project — 180 units — if the developer agreed to make 33 percent of the units affordable to low- and moderate-income residents, the standard under Proposition K, a nonbinding housing measure San Francisco voters passed last year.
“The (rezoning) is conferring value to development with seemingly no public benefit in return, and seems to be a lost opportunity to advance affordable housing goals,” Cohen said.
Preston argued that developers building along Divisadero Street are also benefiting from the $6.5 million the city spent a few years ago on street improvements — wider sidewalks, trees, an enlarged median. It was these public infrastructure improvements that helped attract a new generation of businesses and restaurants like Bi-Rite Market, Nopa, Bar Crudo, Mojo and the Mill, he argued.
“The city has put a ton of money into that strip, which has made it a particularly hot area that developers want to invest in,” said Preston. “The question I ask is: What is the city asking for in return?”
Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of the urban think tank SPUR, said the NCT is a “great zoning category for neighborhood commercial streets” and that Kriozere’s group seems to be responding to the changes in an appropriate way.
“Divisadero has become a really nice street, and I think it will help traffic not to have the gas station there,” said Metcalf. “The city should be encouraging smaller units as a way to give more people a way to live here. To me this sounds like a case of the developer doing what the city wants.”
Housing Action Coalition Executive Director Tim Colen balked at the idea that individual projects like 444 Divisadero should be obligated to meet the Prop. K goal. Rather, the 33 percent goal was meant for the city as a whole, not individual projects, he said.
“We categorically reject the idea that Prop. K had a project-by-project 33 percent requirement,” said Colen.
While the 5M project by Forest City and the Hearst Corp. at Fifth and Mission streets and the San Francisco Giants development near AT&T Park have recently committed to meet the Prop. K goals, those are massive developments where the builders are getting big up-zonings and other public concessions. Hearst also owns The Chronicle.
“It’s easy to see how the goals identified in Prop. K somehow morph into a concrete project-by-project requirement,” Colen said.
At least four smaller infill projects have been proposed for Divisadero Street, including two on the block that contains the Independent nightclub. At Bush and Divisadero, a six-story commercial and residential complex called KB Homes Bush Street is close to opening.
Like many people who live near Divisadero, Preston has mixed feelings about the changes. He fought allowing chain stores on the street at a time when multiple vacant retail spaces were scattered on every block. He likes the fact that so many locally owned shops have opened, adding vitality to the street. But the street’s newfound popularity is fueling speculation. Preston recently held a “boot camp” for tenants around Divisadero worried about eviction. He expected 25 people; 75 showed up.
“It really speaks to the fear,” he said. “Not everyone was being evicted, but there is very strong fear in the neighborhood of displacement or eviction. Everybody knows someone who is being forced out.”
A survey of neighborhood residents showed widespread support for on-site affordable units, according to Amy Farrah Weiss, who founded a group called Neighbors Developing Divisadero. Out of 130 residents who responded to the questionnaire, 63 percent supported a statement that Supervisor London Breed, who represents the area, should push for 33 percent on-site affordable housing.
Resigned to change
Breed said she could not take a position on the project, but in general supports having developers include on-site affordable units rather than pay a fee. She said she agrees that the new zoning should come with higher affordability requirements.
But Breed, who grew up in the Western Addition, said there is not much to be done about the transformation that has changed the street.
Gentrification “is done. What is there left to protest? Everything that was there when I was a kid is not there anymore, except the Popeye’s,” said Breed. “I can’t afford Divisadero. A Chronicle reporter can’t afford it. The bus driver definitely can’t afford it.”