Tweeking the tidelands - Page 2

Tweeking the tidelands: Migden's attempt to amend coastal law triggers a classic land-use battle

But in recent weeks disagreement has broken out over last-minute amendments that were added to Migden's bill June 20 to impose height limits on four seawall lots in the Northeastern Waterfront Historic District and remove a fifth lot entirely.

Those amendments were added following input from neighborhood groups like the Telegraph Hill Dwellers, the Barbary Coast Neighborhood Association, and the Friends of the Golden Gate, a 1,400-member nonprofit whose stated goal is "to preserve open recreational space for the citizens of San Francisco."

In a June 20 letter to Migden, Telegraph Hill Dwellers president Vedica Puri argued for height limits on the basis of a "visual and historic connection between the waterfront and Telegraph Hill" created by "higher structures closer to the base of Telegraph Hill and lower buildings near the Embarcadero." Noting that three of the disputed lots are currently zoned for heights of 40 feet, with the fourth lot, closer to Telegraph Hill, zoned for 65 feet, Puri argued for respecting local height limits in place as of January.

Meanwhile, the Barbary Coast Neighborhood Association, the Telegraph Hill Dwellers, and the Friends of the Golden Gate asked that lot 351, which abuts the Golden Gate Tennis and Swim Club, be excluded from the deal.

"There is an ongoing struggle in the Barbary Coast neighborhood over an outsize condominium project usually known as the 8 Washington Project," Jonathan Middlebrook of the association's Waterfront Action Group warned.

Friends of the Golden Gate chair Lee Radner, in a June 29 letter to Loni Hancock, chair of the Assembly's Natural Resources Committee, argued for keeping lot 351 under the public trust because it "abuts the open recreational space, along the Embarcadero, Washington, and Drumm streets."

"Lot 351, if removed from the public trust," Radner wrote, "will give a developer the option to build high-rise, exclusive, and costly condominiums that would spill over into the recreational space and change the open view corridors to Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower forever, limit the light and views of many neighbors, and impact the traffic on an already congested Embarcadero."

But two local planning and land-use groups argue that Migden's amended legislation would wrest control of height restrictions from the local planning process and benefit a well-heeled few at the expense of everyone else.

Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable City, said he believes height limits and urban design should be decided at the local level. "The problem with stipuutf8g a 40-foot height limit is that you end up getting squashed retail space, creating a pokey, unpleasant atmosphere," said Radulovich, who'd rather see the lots taken out of the bill than included with those provisions. "To my mind the question is: how do builders create a great street? And what building controls help achieve that goal? We wanted to make these lots more walkable, bikeable, and accessible to contribute to the overall public good with the maximum opportunity for local control. The latest amendments tip the balance towards state interference, and that's inappropriate."

Tim Colen of the Housing Action Coalition accuses the neighborhood associations of "not wanting any height increases or other uses to the extent that it might threaten their view." Colen said developer Simon Snellgrove of Pacific Waterfront Partners is interested in lot 351, which lies across from the Ferry Building, to create high-end condos, mixed-use residential units, and 34 below-market-rate units.

He acknowledges that the Golden Gate Tennis and Swim Club would lose three tennis courts under the legislation. "But this is a chance for 34 families to get housing and be able to stay in San Francisco," Colen said.