Marina residents who thought they scored a victory against the developer of an oversize hotel have been surprised to discover that Planning Department officials, working with a permit expediter, had quietly moved the project forward anyway.
At issue is the plan by an out-of-state developer to demolish the Lombard Plaza Motel and build a larger hotel on the spot. More than three years ago a Florida developer obtained a conditional use permit to construct a new seven-story tourist hotel of nearly 50,000 square feet on a lot containing about 13,600 square feet at 2026 Lombard. The new structure would dwarf the motel, which is approximately 8,000 square feet.
Concerned residents, with the help of San Francisco land-use attorney Steven Williams, appealed the conditional use permit to the Board of Supervisors. After a lengthy public hearing, the board passed a motion in September 2003 basically saying that the hotel as planned was too big and therefore that the developer would have to make the building smaller.
After the board issued its ruling, the developer waited two years and nine months before submitting a revised proposal to the Planning Department. By that time, Williams and the residents had all but forgotten about the matter. The board, after all, gave the developer three years from September 2003 to obtain its permits; there was no chance, given the amount of time the developer had permitted to elapse, that it could submit new plans and obtain all of the necessary regulatory approvals by Sept. 30, 2006. Or at least that's what Williams and his clients believed.
No one alerted the residents when the developer submitted its new plan in June. The developer hired a high-powered permit expediter, Jaiden Consulting, and almost immediately thereafter, the Planning Department issued a site permit. Neither Jaiden Consulting nor the developer returned the Guardian's calls for comment.
Williams told the Guardian it normally takes weeks or months for a permit to be issued. In this case, the developer submitted its new proposal the Friday before the Labor Day weekend, and the Planning Department issued the permit the following Tuesday.
Deviating further from procedure, the Department of Building Inspection issued the permit even though the Structural Advisory Committee had not yet conducted a peer review of the project. The board's 2003 motion explicitly made the issuing of permits conditional upon such a review. Williams brought this fact to the Planning Department's attention, and on Sept. 21 zoning commissioner Lawrence Badiner directed the Department of Building Inspection to suspend the demolition permits pending a structural review.
The suspension finally gave Williams and the residents the opportunity to review the developer's new plan; they quickly discovered that it did not conform to the conditions they believe the board mandated in its 2003 motion. They say that the hotel as conceived is still much too large and would encroach upon their privacy, light, and airspace. But the Planning Department didn't see it that way.
The matter has been hanging in limbo even though District 1 supervisor Jake McGoldrick, who sponsored the board's 2003 motion, sent department officials a letter in which he agreed with the residents' position and clarified the board's intent in passing the motion.
The Planning Department responded that McGoldrick is only one supervisor and that his understanding of the motion's language does not necessarily reflect that of the other board members. For that reason, McGoldrick talked to the other supervisors who were active when the motion was passed; with one exception, they all agreed with his interpretation. McGoldrick communicated that fact to Badiner.
It's still unclear how the Planning Department will resolve the conflict, but — no matter how it settles the dispute — the story should serve as a cautionary tale for all city residents.