Noe Valley Voice May 2001

Rumors Behind the News

By Mazook

THE FICKLE FATE of Dan's Auto is still uncertain, despite all the flap about what's going to fill the last large lot awaiting development in Downtown Noe Valley.

If you missed Corrie Anders' front-page story in the April Voice, here's the rundown. Dan's owners, John McCarthy and Fred Hornblower, have agreed to sell their 10,000-square-foot property at 3865 24th Street to real estate broker and developer Peter Naughton, of Shamrock Realty. The selling price was reportedly $3.5 million, but now we've been told that it was "only" $3.25 million. (Sorry, we have a hard time with numbers that big.)

Anyway, the deal is contingent upon Naughton's getting the permits he needs to demolish the 42-year-old gas station and build a four-story building (some call it a "fortress"), with 18 apartments, three to four shops on the ground floor, and an underground garage with 32 stalls. Naughton has hired architect Warner Schmalz and local land-use attorney Claire Pilcher to shepherd the designs through the city's Planning Department and past the scrutiny of nearby residents and neighborhood groups.

Over the past two months, Naughton, Schmalz, and Pilcher have been attending the meetings of neighborhood groups and trying to address everyone's concerns about the massive building.

That, folks, will be a hard sell to the residents in our monster-home-trampled neighborhood, and to a determined group of merchants, who are, rightly or wrongly, clamoring for, you got it, parking!

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WHO WANTS TO BE A PRESBYTERIAN: Meanwhile, the Noe Valley Ministry, our dearly beloved church on Sanchez, has been communing with a mysterious group of wealthy Presbyterians, who are willing to match Naughton's offer for Dan's lot, should the deal fall through.

If they win the $3.25 million jackpot, the church will demolish the garage, pave the lot, and lay down some stripes for church parking on Sundays, and for public parking the rest of the week.

Ministry Pastor Keenan Kelsey says her (still anonymous) Presbyterian benefactors are "the same group that recently bought a parking lot here in San Francisco for the Old First Presbyterian Church on Van Ness and Sacramento.

"This foundation is looking at the parking situation for urban churches nationwide and believes parking to be a key to being a community center," she says. "They are very serious about their proposal, which monetarily matches the one made by the developer, and ours is all cash with no conditions or contingencies."

Kelsey adds that putting in a parking lot on 24th Street "will give us a chance to expand and cooperate with our neighborhood in positive ways for both."

Yes, this idea holds a lot of appeal, not only for those people on the highway to heaven, but for the ones who just want to stop circling the block, for heaven's sake.

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UNITED WE STAND FOR PARKING: The Ministry's offer is so tempting it has brought the leaders of our most powerful neighborhood groups together in opposition to Naughton's development.

Dave Monks, president of the Friends of Noe Valley, says his personal opinion is that "there is a growing consensus among the neighbors who have issues with elements of [Naughton's] project, such as the four-story height of the building and the fact that they're going for the maximum density. Also, many neighbors, especially the adjoining ones, are worried about the excavation of previously contaminated soil. Others are concerned about the use of the retail space."

Until those aspects of the project are fixed, Monks likes the Ministry alternative. "This is not just about paving a parking lot. The community can make this a very attractive space with pedestrian-friendly benches and landscaping."

Monks adds that he expects this tug-of-war over Dan's to wind up before the Board of Supervisors, "especially if the developer is intent on his current plan."

Meanwhile, Bob Roddick, president of the Noe Valley Merchants Association, has written a letter to Messrs. Hornblower and McCarthy, informing them of his group's objections to the Naughton proposal and expressing his fervent support of the Ministry plan.

"Our association is unanimously in support of the Ministry's offer," Roddick declares. "Although we wanted a parking garage, we would settle for surface-only parking, and we are planning to get neighborhood petitions circulated in support of public parking on the site."

East & West of Castro Club President Paul Kantus is also a parking-lot booster. Windfalls like that don't come along every day, he says. "That the Ministry was able to match the offer of the developer -- that is fantastic."

Upper Noe Neighbors president Vicki Rosen isn't so much for parking as against the Naughton proposal. "It's too big, intrusive, and it has downsides that are really downsides, like being huge and ugly."

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BUT NOT SO FAST: Claire Pilcher says her client has already gone back to the drawing board, and will take into consideration all the suggestions made at the meetings. No permit applications have been made yet to anyone, she adds, "and I believe that this is a good project for the neighborhood for a variety of reasons."

"Naughton is a responsible developer," she says, "who is trying his best to be responsive to the neighbors and provide much-needed housing along a transit corridor." The plan includes ample parking and has a building height that is within code requirements, and to allay environmental fears, Pilcher says, "The [present] owners have spent eight years cleaning up the soil and have received a certificate from the state of California stating that it has passed inspection."

As for negative reaction from local groups, Pilcher says that she is not aware of any votes taken by the Friends of Noe Valley or other groups in opposition to the project. She reiterates that there has been no application made yet to the Planning Commission and that architect Schmalz is busy making modifications to the design, keeping community wishes in mind. In any case, Mr. Naughton plans to forge ahead with his development.

Since City Planning remains pro-development, pro-housing, and pro-transit, I tend to agree with Monks that the whole thing could land in the lap of the Board of Supervisors.

Speaking of which, Supe Mark Leno tells us that he is acutely aware of the debate over Dan's lot, and calls it "a unique situation because such a [space] is so rarely available, so I am putting a lot of trust in the community process on this one."

So are we, Mark.

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IN OTHER DEVELOPMENTS: Vicki Rosen was quite excited by the healthy turnout (more than 50) at the Upper Noe Neighbors meeting last month. The one and only topic was the development proposed for the site of Reilly's Funeral Home at the corner of Dolores and 29th.

As we reported a couple of months ago, Reilly's owner wants to demolish the existing structure, built in 1927, and erect a four-story building with 13 condos. At press time, he had plans to provide just one parking space per unit.

Rosen thinks that's nowhere near enough. "We have only 13 parking spaces for 32 bedrooms--and we're concerned that the developer has shown little willingness to address this issue."

The Upper Noeyans are scrambling to muster forces for a May 10 hearing before the Planning Commission, which is poised to review the condo project. The group's request for a two-week continuance has been vetoed by the builders, so here we go again. If the commission approves the plan as is, the Neighbors will appeal to the Board of Supervisors.

Vicki suggests that those wanting to attend the hearing phone 558-6422 after May 7 to double-check that Reilly's is still on the Planning Commission calendar.

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IN WITH THE NEW: The building that housed the Metropolitan Community Church at 1508 Church near 27th Street (next to Mia's Flowers) has been bought by a Noe Valley dentist, Sylvia Jimenez, who will move her practice from 24th Street. Additional professional offices in the building will be for rent.

Sunday, April 29, was the last day for the popular vegetarian restaurant Valentine's, which opened six years ago in a tiny storefront on Church near 30th Street. "We have developed other interests and are just burned out," says Kunal Mukherjee. But he and co-owner Daniel Morrison want their loyal customers to know that another veggie-minded eatery will take Valentine's place. The new restaurant, called Pomelo, will feature grains and noodles.

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BASIC OOLONG: Those rumors that Sharon Stone recently had her birthday party at Lovejoy's are absolutely true, and with eight of her closest women friends, I might add. Of course they ordered the deluxe Queen's Tea. Local psychic and former Lovejoy's owner Trish Hollenberg came by and read tea leaf fortunes for the partygoers. Where are our photographers when we need 'em?

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KUDOS, KUDOS: Congratulations to Mission Police Officer Lorraine Lombardo, who was the recipient of the Council of District Merchants Police Officer of the Year Award. "I've been working in Noe Valley for 10 years, and it's really nice to be recognized for my community policing work here," she said.

"Both Lois Perillo and I have built relationships over the years with families in the neighborhood, their kids, even their pets. It feels great to be of service, and it feels fabulous to have the community go to bat for me like this." Thank you, Officer Lorraine, for everything you do for us!

The annual report of San Francisco Beautiful cites the Alvarado Elementary School mural as one of the 2000 Beautification Award honorees. So maybe we could get some toddlers with paintbrushes to spiff up Dan's Gas?

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YOU ARE THE CHURCH STREET LINK: The answer to last month's riddle is J&S Barber's Stephanie Holstein, who will gladly recycle that old fur coat or mohair sweater into a lovable teddy bear. When Stephanie isn't barbering, she is crafting cuddly bruins and porcelain dolls decked out in elaborate outfits. Pop over to J&S, on Church Street at 25th, where they're on display in the windows.

That's all, you all. Ciao for niao, brown cow.