'Monster in the Mission' could become all-affordable housing in development deal

'Monster in the Mission' could become all-affordable housing in development deal
The Honda dealership on Market and Van Ness Street could become the site of a 590-foot tower. Photo: Michael Short / Special to The Chronicle 2018
'Monster in the Mission' could become all-affordable housing in development deal
The “monster in the Mission” development project drew spirited debate. Photo: Santiago Mejia / The Chronicle 2019
'Monster in the Mission' could become all-affordable housing in development deal
A rendering of the proposed 1979 Mission project. Photo: Maximus Partners

The long-stalled development slated for San Francisco’s 16th Street BART station, derided by opponents as “the monster in the Mission,” would become a 100 percent affordable housing complex under a tentative deal struck between the city and the developer of a different property on Market Street.

Developer Crescent Heights, which plans to build 984 units at the former Honda dealership at Market Street and South Van Ness Avenue, has agreed to buy the “monster” property at 1979 Mission St. and donate it to the city for affordable housing. The land dedication would satisfy Crescent Heights’ affordable housing requirements for the 590-foot tower it plans to put up at the Honda site.

Those involved in the talks stressed that the transaction is contingent on the rezoning of the Hub, which would raise height limits on 18 properties, including the old Honda site, near the intersection of Van Ness Avenue and Market Street. The Planning Commission is scheduled to vote Thursday on the Hub rezoning, which also requires Board of Supervisors approval.

While most San Francisco developers meet the city’s affordable housing requirements by paying a fee or including below-market-rate units on site, city laws allow developers to donate land to the city for low-income housing. San Francisco Planning Director Rich Hillis said that land dedication can be a “useful option in addressing gentrification in certain neighborhoods.”

“The possible acquisition would be big for the Mission, a community that has been hit hard by gentrification,” said Hillis.

If the deal is consummated, and the 16th Street BART development becomes housing for approximately 330 low-income households, it would represent a significant victory for Mission District activists, who have long regarded the 16th Street BART project as the front line of a larger fight against gentrification and displacement in the trendy neighborhood, which lost 8,000 Latino residents between 2008 and 2018.

Since 2013 the Plaza 16 Coalition, a group Mission District residents and nonprofits, fought the market rate development on the site, instead pushing an alternative affordable project they called the “marvel in the Mission.”

Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who has been working on the 16th Street BART project for eight years, first as chief of staff for former Supervisor David Campos and later as a supervisor, said, “It’s hard for me to describe how meaningful this is for the Mission and for me personally.”

“We kept pushing because we knew that a transit-oriented, affordable, beautiful project over the BART plaza was possible,” she said. “I'll say this: The Mission community is smart. They know what their community needs; they know their rights; and they know the planning code.”

Jon Jacobo, a Mission District activist who has been involved in talks about the transaction, stressed that more details have to be worked out before the Plaza 16 coalition is unified behind the deal. Still, he said getting “such a key piece of land” secured for affordable housing would a “big win.”

“This has been community-led from the jump — it was all because of the Plaza 16 Coalition that we were able to fight back against the monster and set it up for a potential cross-community collaboration like this,” he said. “It took everyone to get this far and it’s going to take everyone to get it done.”

The previous developer, Maximus Real Estate Partners, struggled to get traction in the neighborhood, despite spending millions of dollars on political consultants and advertising campaigns.

Earlier, Maximus had introduced a new proposal promising to buy and dedicate two fully entitled sites in the Mission to the city for affordable housing. The sites, at 2675 Folsom St. and 2918 Mission St., are currently approved for 192 units, which could be increased to 306 units if local density bonus laws were to be invoked.

The Hub rezoning would allow for 9,710 new housing units, about 1,640 more than the 8,070 allowed under the current zoning. In addition to the Crescent Heights project, the Hub plan would allow for a 610-unit, 520-foot condo high-rise at 30 Van Ness Ave. and a new French American International School with a 31-story, 345-apartment residential tower shooting up behind it near the intersection of Franklin and Market streets.

Under the Hub plan, Crescent Heights would have to make 20.5% percent of rental units permanently affordable.

David Noyola, a spokesman for Crescent Heights said the the 10 South Van Ness project would deliver “world-class architecture by KPF architects, neighborhood-serving retail and a package of affordable housing and fees that includes the possibility of substantial off-site affordable housing assets supported by the community and city.”

He said the developer is “excited to do its part to help address the shortage of housing in San Francisco and contribute to the Hub.”

If the land dedication is completed, the city would then pick a nonprofit building to construct the 330-unit development, which would likely cost about $200 million. It would likely be paid for through a combination of tax credits, tax-exempt bonds, and public subsidies. The Mission District currently has about 1,000 units of affordable housing either under construction or in the pipeline.