A Lot to Be Desired

A one-acre vacant lot in Crocker-Amazon is the latest hotspot for the housing debate, as a developer plans to squeeze 24 units into a single-family parcel.

Photo: Joe Kukura

Few one-acre vacant lots have just sat empty during San Francisco’s development boom. But a proposal on one such undeveloped property about a thousand feet from the Daly City border is stirring up a hornet’s nest of neighborhood opposition owing to its ambitious, high-density plan to build 24 units on a lot currently zoned for a single-family residential house.

There are a few vacant lots dotted around the city’s southern Excelsior and Crocker-Amazon neighborhoods, including one that district Supervisor Asha Safai bought and tried to develop last year, only to back out over the appearance of a conflict of interest. This piece of land, right off a five-block road called Guttenberg Street, is one of the largest remaining vacant lots in Crocker-Amazon.

But the surprising size of the proposed housing development has this working-class family neighborhood up in arms.

Tempers flared at a community meeting over the project last Wednesday, where more than 80 neighborhood residents turned out at a library conference room that could not hold even half that many people. Locals were forced to lean in through outside patio windows to express outrage at developers hoping to build so much housing on a single-family parcel.

“One unit is allowed on this whole property,” complained resident Rosendo Guardado. “And you guys are asking for 24.”

The developers, Fremont-based P&J Builders, insist the project’s scope is within San Francisco zoning laws and Planning Code. “This lot is subdividable,” said the project’s architect Maxwell Beaumont. “This lot can have multiple houses on it, not just one.”

According to a Planning Department assessment of the project dated March 14, 2018, “The site could contain a total of up to 22 dwelling units.”

This community meeting was required by the Planning Department, though the majority in attendance said they’d received no mail notice, and only knew about the meeting because of a grassroots opposition group’s flyering campaign. This struck some as curious, since they had received offers on their property from the same developer.

“Many of us got contacted when you were interested in purchasing [our] land,” said neighbor Terrance Shaw. “But when it’s time to develop and build, we don’t hear from you.”

Residents were concerned over the alleged privatization of a newly constructed street. P&J Builders points out this merely a driveway to the houses, not a private street,  and no gates or barriers would be included. Neighbors still worried the proposed entrance could create a hairpin turn that fire trucks could not successfully navigate.

“A few months ago, Recology couldn’t even get their garbage trucks out of the private road next to my house,” one neighbor pointed out. “So how is a fire truck, which is bigger, longer, and wider, going to get out?”

But the developers insisted the project would be fire-code compliant.

“Fire truck turnarounds are specified by the fire department,” Beaumont, the architect, said. “There is also a hydrant to be located on the property.”   

This project currently has no permits to build, and has not even started the required environmental reviews that are likely to take a year or longer. But residents remain worried that if the development of this lot ever breaks ground, it could also break their neighborhood, with more traffic, fire hazards, and a precedent for cramming dozens of units onto single-family properties.

For better or worse, the development boom has set its sights on the secluded and overlooked Crocker-Amazon. Regardless of what happens, this is a vacant space that has a lot on its plate.

NOTE: This article has been updated with clarification from P&J Builders that the project does not include a private street. 

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