Affordable Housing, Project Proposals, Public Spaces / Parks, Rincon Hill / Transbay / South of Market, San Francisco

Gearing Up For Block 11

transbay_block11.jpgBecause most of the general interest in the Transbay redevelopment process seems to focus, quite understandably, on the Pelli Transit Center and its signature tower, it is easy to forget how much planning is required to deal with the rest (really, most) of the redevelopment zone — now-vacant lots once occupied by the Embarcadero Freeway, mostly located north of Folsom, with a couple slivers to the south. To jumpstart the various threads of the greater development process, each of these former freeway parcels will be treated to a separate RFP. Building a neighborhood from scratch in modern times is no easy task, and even small, peripheral parcels should be lavished with as much care and attention as we can give. Currently up for consideration is Block 11, whose RFP is in the drafting stage. Hugging the eastern corner of Folsom and Essex, Block 11 (outlined in red in the Google satellite image at right) is a more peripheral site, in the sense that it is not slated for a tower or a particularly high density of new homes. But to current and future residents of the neighborhood, it could prove more controversial than new additions to the skyline.

And bound to get more controversial, courtesy of the C.W. Nevius column that appeared in the Chronicle this week. The column painted a grim picture of The Plaza, a housing-first building at Sixth and Howard Streets. While it included a fairly meek rebuttal from DPH, the article mostly cited anecdotes which indicated that rather than providing proactive services to adequately encourage its formerly homeless residents to conquer the substance abuse underlying their unfortunate life cycle, the supportive housing experiment has only succeeded in moving the harsh realities of the street indoors — putting aside for the moment any architectural achievements of The Plaza.

Pursuant to both the project redevelopment plan requiring 35% affordability and the Mayor’s Consolidated Plan, a permanently affordable supportive housing project with on-site services in the vein of The Plaza is slated to be built on the northern portion of Transbay’s Block 11, fronting onto Folsom; construction is targeted to start in roughly 2011. The building, which would likely be about 80-85 feet tall, will include 100-120 units, 90% of which would be 400 square foot studios, and 525 square foot one-bedroom apartments for the remaining 10%. In accordance with the plan to transform Folsom into a new two-way neighborhood main street for Transbay and Rincon Hill, neighborhood-serving retail is planned for the ground floor of the building at the corner of Folsom. The RFP for Block 11’s supportive housing component will be finalized in upcoming weeks. Proposals submitted in response to the RFP will be collected during the summer and evaluated by the Commission later this fall.

As for the rest of Block 11, fronting Essex Street: the slice of land adjacent to the supportive housing site would support no more than a couple dozen homes, of the 35-50 foot townhouse variety that will be peppered throughout the Transbay redevelopment zone to lend a comfortably human scale to the alleys and narrower streets in the neighborhood; it has not yet been officially determined whether or not these units will be applied to fulfill the affordable housing requirement. Moving a little further south along Essex, the remaining slivers of land will become new open space for the neighborhood. The tax increment funds needed to make this open space a reality are available to be applied, pending approval from the Board of Supervisors. The park would ideally be completed in advance of the new housing.

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