Noe Valley Voice June 2001

Dan's May Be Reincarnated -- As a Parking Lot

By Corrie M. Anders

Call it the Miracle on 24th Street.

In a dramatic reversal, real estate developer Peter Naughton has abandoned his controversial plan to construct a four-story apartment and retail complex on the site of the old Dan's gas and service station.

His decision paved the way for the Noe Valley Ministry to purchase the boarded-up 24th Street property and convert it into a commercial parking lot -- a rival proposal strongly supported by Noe Valley residents' and merchants' groups.

"It's the most amazing thing," declared Rev. Keenan Kelsey, the Ministry's pastor, after learning about the stunning turnaround late last month.

Naughton pulled out of a contract to purchase the property, which reportedly carried a $3.2 million price tag, after determining that his proposal was not economically viable at that price.

The owners of the property then accepted a backup bid from a group of anonymous donors to purchase the former gas station site, located at 3865 24th Street (at Vicksburg Street). The donors have been identified only as wealthy Presbyterians "committed to helping small urban churches around the country."

"The donor group intends to provide a parking lot to benefit Noe Valley Ministry and the neighborhood of Noe Valley," said Kelsey. "This is to be done as a joint venture with Noe Valley Ministry."

Kelsey said the Ministry already has started a fundraising campaign in order to purchase its part of the property, the largest parcel of land available for development on 24th Street.

Naughton's proposal had provoked strong community opposition almost from the day it was unveiled in January. He wanted to build a four-story development of 18 apartments, three to five retail stores on the ground floor, and an underground garage for 32 cars.

Opponents contended that the complex not only would make traffic congestion worse than it already is, but the four-story structure was too large for the block of two- and three-story structures. They also complained that it would cast shadows over nearby businesses and that some residents on Vicksburg, Jersey, and Sanchez streets would lose their privacy.

But it was economics, not politics, that skewered the deal, according to Claire Pilcher, a longtime Noe Valley resident and Naughton's land use attorney. Naughton is a veteran developer and a real estate broker with Shamrock Realty.

"The figures just didn't work out for him," Pilcher said. "At that price, it wasn't something feasible for him to do. He couldn't match the price by the church."

Pilcher said Naughton realized "sometime back" that the numbers didn't support the development, but kept the contract alive in hopes that he "might get them to lower the price." John McCarthy and Fred Hornblower own the property.

The developer was "disappointed he couldn't go ahead with the project," Pilcher said. "He invested a lot of time and money in it."

But the decision delighted neighborhood activists, who preferred a public parking lot instead of housing and retail stores.

"The neighborhood put out a lot of energy on the Ministry's behalf. We wanted to see the Ministry get this lot, and that was made clear to everyone," said Dave Monks, president of Friends of Noe Valley.

"I'm very excited for the Ministry," Monks said. "It's incredible that these people [donors] came from who knows where to help this church."

The auto service is two blocks from the church at 1021 Sanchez Street. Once demolished and paved over, it will serve as a church parking lot for Sunday church activities and generate revenue by providing hourly weekday parking for the public.

Timetables and other details about the parking lot will emerge over the next few months. Earlier this year, Kelsey told the Voice that the donors proposed to give the Ministry 40 percent ownership in the parking lot.

The Ministry's fundraising effort is the "first step in a $3.2 million capital program." Kelsey said the money would finance the Ministry's interest in the parking lot, as well as building improvements at the church. The renovations at 1021 Sanchez include a new foundation, new lighting infrastructure, upgraded and handicapped-accessible bathrooms, room reconfigurations, and an elevator.

The Ministry's takeover represents the end of an era for Dan's, which has been a fixture in Noe Valley for more than 70 years. McCarthy's father established the auto service business in 1930 and the family operated it until Wayne Rosemont took over the lease 17 years ago.

Rosemont discontinued gas sales seven years ago. Last August, however, Rosemont suddenly shut down the entire operation for financial reasons.

The property was then put up for sale, setting off competing bids from Naughton and the Ministry.