Community Groups Sue the City Over 5M Luxury Development in Soma

Site of the 5M project

It’s been an arduous, seven-year climb for 5M, the four-acre mixed-use development slated for Fifth and Mission streets in SoMa. Spearheaded by development company Forest City and property owner Hearst Corporation (which also owns the San Francisco Chronicle), 5M calls for the demolition of a handful of surface parking lots and buildings on Howard, Natoma, and Fifth streets, as well as the construction of three new high­-rises ranging from 200 to 450 feet tall.

Opponents charged that the three high-rises would throw a shadow over the recently renovated Boeddeker Park in the Tenderloin. Then they said the project threatened the neighborhood’s working-class Filipino community by introducing more luxury-rate housing. Finally, they accused the city of breaking zoning code controls to accommodate the project's height.

Nonetheless, after a contentious community hearing, the Board of Supervisors certified the project’s Environmental Impact Report on Nov. 17 and opted to move forward with 5M. The Board did score a number of concessions, including:

  • 40 percent affordable housing (or 212 units) within five blocks of the project
  • $12 million to transportation and pedestrian safety improvements in the neighborhood
  • Three public open spaces, totaling 49,000 square feet
  • 12,000 square feet for arts and cultural events

Community groups weren’t appeased, however, and have now filed suit against the city to challenge the Board’s decision. The groups cited are South of Market Community Action Network (SOMCAN), Save Our SoMa (SOS), and Friends of Boeddeker Park.

[jump] “By this approval, the city wiped out years of neighborhood planning efforts that were initiated to protect families, youth and seniors. Instead of abiding by established planning and code provisions, the city implemented special legislation that gave the Hearst Corporation millions of dollars in added land value by rezoning their properties in a way that completely ignored community efforts,” Angelica Cabande of SOMCAN said in a statement.

She added that the development’s affordable housing offerings weren’t all that affordable and referred to a Nov. 16 editorial published in the Examiner that stated, “Onsite BMR rental must be targeted to people at 55 percent of the area median income (AMI), but these units are for people making 100 percent to 150 percent AMI. The 2-bedrooms will range from $2,293/month to $3,439/month in rent.”

Community groups argue that during public hearings they offered an alternative to 5M that would cap building heights at 160 feet and enforce the city’s inclusionary housing ordinances. The groups claim the Board of Supervisors ignored their input.

“We are left with no other choice but to file suit” Cabande said. “We cannot allow the city and the developer to rush through project approvals, dismiss impacts, cut backroom deals, ignore public comment, brush over long standing community plans, and contort the definition of affordable housing. We are standing up for SoMa, the Tenderloin and San Francisco.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that 5M included 33 percent affordable housing rather than 40 percent. We regret the error.

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