The notoriously rejected 27-story residential tower in a SoMa parking lot had its Plan B version approved, but now the developer is putting the project on ice, and a highly frustrated Planning Commission approved letting it remain a parking lot for another five years.

Arguably the most controversial decision that the SF Board of Supervisors has made in recent years was their 2021 rejection of a 27-story residential tower in what was then a Nordstrom parking lot, over seismic and displacement concerns. That rejection drew condemnation from state legislators, lawsuits, and even a mock funeral with fake headstones. But the developer Build Inc. simply submitted a revised version of the plan, and that Plan B was approved without controversy in December 2022.

Well, the place is no longer a Nordstrom parking lot, because that Nordstrom at the Westfield Mall has since closed. And it doesn’t look like the residential tower is coming anytime soon either, as Build Inc. is now citing market conditions and “It doesn’t pencil”-type reasons to delay the project indefinitely.

On Thursday, the SF Planning Commission reluctantly approved an authorization to let the location just sit as a parking lot for another five years. Planning Department assistant planner Elizabeth Mau told the commission before the vote that “The parking lot will serve as a suitable interim use pending the future development of the property.”

Build Inc. was not present at the meeting, and the request came from the parking lot operator North Beach Parking Services.

But Build Inc. did say to Planning Department staff that “We intend to go vertical on the project when market conditions improve sufficiently to make the project economically feasible. We don’t know when or if this will happen.”  

That vagueness did not please Commissioner Sue Imperial. “This project is currently an underutilized lot,” she said Thursday. “The proposal for the extension of another five years makes me uncomfortable to have it still be a parking lot for the next five years, especially if there’s no timeline.”  

Commissioner Kathrin Moore was also disappointed. “We were rushed to approve a redesigned project with great pressure that the developer was ready to build,” Moore said. “The project was buoyant on the fact that it would be built immediately. And that was kind of what was promised in the approval meeting.”

"I’m a little bit miffed — is that a proper word to use? — to have promises made," Moore added. "When you’re sitting here making a decision, based on an impending promise, and then later on, ‘Well, I just have to wait for the market’... That hurts."

Planning Department director Rich Hillis was a little more sympathetic. “There are dozens, if not hundreds of sites around the city that are in this same position, kind of waiting for conditions to change in order for projects to move forward.”

“There’s plenty of reasons why right now that project doesn’t pencil,” Hillis continued. “If that project does come forward, it's predominantly market-rate, but it does contribute toward the affordable housing stock of the city.” (Build Inc's new plan called for 495 units, 73 of them affordable).

Some commissioners wondered why the city wouldn’t just buy the property, and build affordable housing there, as they’ve done elsewhere.

“We’re in an affordable housing crisis, we should be exploring every avenue possible,” Commissioner Gilbert Williams said before the vote. “We should be having every conversation possible with folks that might be sitting on a property that they’re not going to develop.”

But Commissioner Sue Diamond explained why she would begrudgingly approve the parking lot extension. “I’m not sure, given that it’s a private piece of property, that we have a whole lot of leverage over that,” Diamond conceded. “So I don’t want to have it sit there as an empty piece of land. I’d rather that they are using it as a parking lot versus absolutely nothing.”

Prior to the unanimous vote to extend the parking lot use for another five years, Hillis said he’d “convene a meeting with” Build Inc., the Mayor's Office of Economic and Community Development, and the Planning Department to explore possible alternative future uses of the site.

Related: Infamous, Rejected Plan for 27-Story Residential Tower in Nordstrom’s Parking Lot Has New Plans Submitted [SFNews]

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