Architect Clark Manus and land use attorney Steve Vettel are veterans of big development projects in San Francisco, so it's little surprise that they would be in the middle of a fight over a 416-foot tower on Cathedral Hill.
Except this time they are on the side of the neighborhood opponents - not the developers.
One of the city's most contentious land-use battles is shaping up on the top of Cathedral Hill, where the longtime property owner Adco Group is proposing a 400-foot tower at 1481 Post St., across the street from the Cathedral of Saint Mary the Assumption.
The tower, which would add 262 condominium units on a strip of land now occupied by tennis courts and a parking garage, would be the tallest building in a neighborhood of high-rises built in the mid- to late-1960s. The developer says the 400-foot height, while 140 feet higher than the zoning allows, is consistent with the city general plan, which calls for the tallest skyscrapers to be built on the tops of hills.
The Planning Commission will hold its first hearing on the project's environmental impact report Thursday afternoon.
The fiercest opposition comes from residents of the Sequoias, a 290-foot-tall seniors' housing tower at 1400 Geary. Sequoias residents complain that the 1481 Post building would sit too close to its residents, particularly the memory care unit, which takes up the bottom three floors of the assisted-living facility. There will be a 16-foot buffer between the two buildings.
The Sequoias has about 325 residents, ranging in age from the mid-60s to 107. Many of the older residents are largely confined to their rooms.
The senior housing complex has hired Vettel to oppose the project before the Planning Commission and well-known Manus to design an acceptable alternative.
"The closer the tower comes to the property line, the closer they are to that section of our building," said Kathie Cheatham, 70, president of the Sequoias residents association. "It's too close for comfort if you are in a room where you can't get out."
She said they two curb cuts along Post Street would create pedestrian safety issues for seniors who walk around the neighborhood doing errands. She also said the tower would make a windy hilltop windier.
"I weigh 110 pounds and the wind already blows me sideways when I am trying to cross Post Street - it's like one of those cartoons where you walk and walk and make no progress," she said.
Cheatham said her group would support a 260-foot alternative proposed by the architecture firm Heller Manus. The developer is also doing an environmental study of the shorter building as an alternative.
Eric Grossberg of the Adco Group said the objections the neighbors are raising - shadows, construction noise, wind - will be similar whether the tower is 260 feet or 400 feet.
Adco is led by Alvin Dworman, who was a force on Cathedral Hill in the 1960s. Dworman built the Cathedral Hill Tower, Cathedral Hill Plaza and assembled the site for the area's defining landmark, the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption, built in 197o.
In 2005, Adco proposed a 400-foot tower. At the time the architect, Craig Hartman, described it as a light and luminous "bell tower marking the presence of the cathedral."
That project was killed by a combination of neighborhood opposition and the recession. Last year, Adco came back with a new design. Linda Corso of Adco said the development would take a drab concrete wall and fenced-in pool and tennis court and replace it with a garden, cafe, waterfall and a mid-block cut-through, said Corso. The project would generate much-needed housing and $15 million for the city's affordable housing fund.
Planning Director John Rahaim said the design has improved, but that planning staff is still "struggling with the height."
400 feet appropriate?
"There is no question (Cathedral Hill) is a place for tall buildings - they are already there," he said. "The only question is whether 400 feet is appropriate. We are still looking at it and considering it."
Many of the objections center on the impact of construction on a frail older population. The "noise of the demolition will be absolutely frightening," said Ted Weber, a 90-year-old Sequoias resident. He said the development would prevent residents from opening their windows.
Adco said it has asked to present the project to Sequoias residents and board, but have not been invited to.
Author: J.K. Dineen