Noe Valley Voice November 2001

Dan's Lot May Not See Stripes Until February

By Corrie M. Anders

It's been almost six months since the Noe Valley Ministry's coup to purchase Dan's Auto Service and turn the long-abandoned 24th Street site into a community parking lot.

So, when will the public, which had been expecting a summer opening, finally get to use the lot?

Probably not until early next year. That's because the church -- and its silent partners of wealthy Presbyterians -- has bumped into a city bureaucracy that will cause a series of delays.

"We hoped to have it ready by Thanksgiving," said Ministry pastor Keenan Kelsey. "Then our reality check was Christmas, and now it looks like February before there is an operating parking lot."

Preliminary plans call for 29 spaces to occupy the site, which was originally proposed as the home of a four-story, apartment-retail complex until neighborhood and economic opposition last summer waylaid the developer's plan.

Parking rates have not been set. Just how much it will cost to use the lot -- and how many spaces will actually be available for public use -- has caused "a murmur of uneasiness" among some residents and merchants.

"Now that the initial joy and amazement have subsided, that it won't be a commercial space and parking has become a reality, people are sort of worried about what sort of reality it will be,'' said Kelsey.

The specifics won't be known until a parking management firm is chosen to operate the lot. But the Ministry, which has no off-street parking of its own, will receive free parking for church activities on Sundays and several evenings.

Plans for a Minipark and Benches

One thing not up in the air is the future look of Dan's, now a dilapidated eyesore at 3865 24th Street (at Vicksburg). The new parking facility will be enclosed by a six-foot-high redwood fence and feature a minipark with seven to nine benches hugging the wall along Haystack Pizza.

"It'll be a place to relax and take a load off," said Tim Leistico, who is serving as the Ministry's project manager.

But the Ministry can't proceed with plans drawn up by architect Barbara Roczniak-Kugay until the city Planning Commission gives its approval.

"The city requires us to do a lot of things," said Kelsey. That includes providing an adequate drainage system, cutting new sidewalk curbs, installing special lighting, and providing a bathroom-equipped kiosk for the parking attendant.

The city-required work represents more than $200,000 in unanticipated costs. "This was all a surprise," Kelsey said. "What part of this we will have to raise and what is part of the gift is unknown at the moment."

The commission also must hold a hearing to determine if the public has any concerns or issues about the Ministry's plans. Leistico said a tentative hearing date had been set for Dec. 6.

"We're not worried" about the public hearing, said Kelsey, "but we feel we need to have a very focused case. We are very likely to ask some representative of the local neighborhood groups to come with us and voice some support" at the public hearing.

Demolition of several structures on the site and grading could begin six weeks after the city gives the formal go-ahead, she said. Paving, construction, and other required work would take another six to eight weeks to complete.

Stores May Reserve Spots for Patrons

Over the past few months, more details have emerged about the deal for the Dan's site, in which the Ministry is a joint partner with anonymous benefactors who paid $3.25 million for the property.

The donors, who according to Kelsey believe that inadequate parking is "the single largest obstacle to church growth," donated $1.5 million to the Ministry as the Ministry's share of the purchase.

The Ministry and the donor group will own the property as a joint venture -- and both will share in the property's future equity. However, the church will receive no revenue from the parking lot and will have only "minimal" responsibility in its operation.

The Presbyterian donors also will realize very little income from the parking operation, according to Kelsey and Leistico. Most of the revenue will go to the parking lot operators -- and to cover the joint-venture operating expenses such as property taxes.

"Even in the best of circumstances, we figure the donors might get 4 percent on their money,'' said Kelsey. Leistico said the return on their investment might be an even smaller 3 percent.

Church officials could not say how much annual income the commercial lot might produce. And parking rates won't be set until a contract is put out to bid and a management firm is chosen.

"We are not even close to determining that. We will tell them what our needs are, and they will make an offer on what they will pay us in order to operate it. And then it's up to them what they will charge," Kelsey said.

"We will certainly present this [to potential bidders] as a community parking lot" and ask that the operators "make it useful and attractive to the community," she said. "Ultimately, we won't have any control" over the parking rates, which Kelsey said may be "what the traffic will bear."

Leistico said some merchants have expressed interest in purchasing monthly reserved spaces for their patrons, and "we probably will have to go that way." He could not say how many spaces might be set aside for merchants.

Ministry Has Dibs on Sunday

As for the Ministry, Leistico has worked up a sample lease that would permit the church to control all 29 spaces on Sundays between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m., and on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 6 to 9 p.m. The church is located on Sanchez Street two blocks from Dan's.

Voice readers may recall that the future parking lot was a deal that almost didn't happen. Early this year, real estate broker Peter Naughton of Shamrock Realty was in contract to purchase the former gas station and repair shop.

Naughton planned to build a complex of three to five retail shops on the ground floor, 18 apartments on the top three floors, and a 32-space underground garage. The proposal drew fierce opposition from merchants and residents who complained the complex was too massive for 24th Street.

Naughton, also facing a softening economy that made his proposal less financially feasible, withdrew his offer to purchase the property. The sellers then accepted a backup bid made by the Ministry and the anonymous donors.