| March 2011
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By Heather World
Picture the Parks: Residents for Noe Valley Town Square invite the community to take a look at four schemes unveiled at a meeting of Friends of Noe Valley last month. The designs were created by Chris Guillard of CMG Landscape Architecture and the Neighborhood Parks Council. For more information, go to www.noevalleytownsquare.com.
With funding still up in the air, neighbors last month set about pinning down a design that would transform the Noe Valley Ministry’s parking lot on 24th Street into a tree-lined town square.
Members of Residents for Noe Valley Town Square, with the help of architect Chris Guillard of CMG Landscape Architecture, presented four schemes at a meeting hosted by Friends of Noe Valley at Alvarado School on Feb. 2.
“This has all been designed around how the farmer’s market would fit,” Guillard told the 35 people in attendance.The parking lot, which is currently for sale, has been home to the Saturday Noe Valley Farmer’s Market for more than seven years. If the lot becomes a town square, as many in the neighborhood wish, the produce market can stay and perhaps be expanded.
Guillard pointed out that all four schemes shared certain elements: a buffer of trees against the properties behind the lot; a large and flexible space that would accommodate the market’s booths; benches or other seating; play space for kids; and restrooms, storage, and a community bulletin board.
Differences in the designs, he said, lay more in orientation. The “Front Square” design frames the lot with two rows of trees at the rear, a trellis running the length of the site’s east side, and a “great tree” in the northwest corner.
“Garden in the Square” tips the balance of trees to the east side of the lot. The “Great Room” design rims the square with greenery, but features a sidewalk-adjacent hub of activity with a stage, play area, and seating.
The fourth scheme, “Not So Square,” has gardens and a stage, too. However, the design offers room for only 24 market tents, as opposed to 30 to 33 in the other plans.
Rather than choose one scheme, residents are being encouraged to use each design as a menu and to pick the elements that best serve the space, said Todd David, president of Friends of Noe Valley and a driving force behind Residents for Noe Valley Town Square.
The group’s goal is to use that information to develop a preferred scheme by late March, he said. To see the designs in detail, go to www.noevalleytownsquare.com. To comment, email noevalleytownsquare @gmail.com, or write Residents for Noe Valley Town Square, 384 Eureka Street, San Francisco, CA 94114.
Merchants Count Spaces
One plan—Front Square—suggests an option to extend the square into the street, eliminating several parking spots.
That might not be the top choice of local merchants. They are hoping to see 12 nose-in parking spots along the front of the lot instead, said Bob Roddick, president of the Noe Valley Merchants and Professionals Association. In January, association members voted unanimously to support the sale and purchase of the lot for a town square. However, they also resolved to request the diagonal parking.
“The neighborhood would only gain six parking spots. But six are better than nothing, especially when we’re losing 29,” Roddick said. (The lot, located between Sanchez and Vicksburg streets, presently has 29 parking stalls.)
Progress Without PROSAC
With the Merchants on board, town square organizers are holding on to their own hope that the city’s Recreation and Park Department will buy the land, using funds set aside for open space acquisition. (See “Town Square Begins at Square One,” September 2010 Voice.) But their first bid for approval was rebuffed.
At its November meeting, the 23-citizen Park and Recreation Open Space Advisory Council (PROSAC) rejected the proposal to put the town square on the roster of properties under consideration. (Twelve votes are needed to pass a resolution. The plan got 11 votes.)
David said he was disappointed in the vote but that PROSAC approval was not mandatory for a place on the list. The more serious test would be a vote before the Recreation and Park Commission, he said.
“In a perfect world, we would have liked to have had the stamp from PROSAC, but truthfully it’s not necessary,” David said.
He said Rec and Park staff had promised to advise town square backers if and when they needed to go before PROSAC again.
$8 Million in Fund
Until then, town square supporters will prepare to bring their case directly to the Recreation and Park Commission, possibly as early as March, he said.
“There’s more than enough money in the Open Space Fund to pay for all these projects,” said David, referring to a tax-supported coffer that totals about $8 million. “From my conversations with Rec and Park and adding the numbers up, I think there’s a good chance the city will pay for them all.”
He said organizers were aiming for a public-private partnership, in which the city buys the land but neighbors pay to turn it into a town square and maintain it.
Funding options might include creating a park improvement district—a self-taxing geographical area dedicated to the park’s upkeep—or hooking a corporate or wealthy donor with the lure of naming rights. “We’re trying to be as nimble as possible,” David said.
No specific fundraising has started yet, he noted. “I want to have a much stronger idea of what the city thinks it can do.”
Support from Supe
The town square also has the help of newly elected District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener. Wiener says he has been in close contact with park officials, including General Manager Phil Ginsburg.
“There is a consensus that this could be a good project,” he said. But that doesn’t mean the process will be easy.
“This is going to be a heavy lift,” Wiener said. “Other projects have been on the list for a long time.”
Renovation Moves Ahead
The Noe Valley Ministry is selling the lot to finance the remodel of its 122-year-old building on Sanchez Street. According to the city assessor, the property is now worth $4.2 million.
Rev. Keenan Kelsey said the Ministry’s renovation would begin in mid-April or early May, depending on when final permits were approved. The church will hold services at St. Luke’s Chapel on Valencia Street, starting March 13. Meanwhile, the Ministry has obtained two “bridge loans”—one from Circle Bank and one from the Presbyterian Synod—that could finance construction if the lot is not sold before construction begins.
Kelsey said the church needed to make at least $3.5 million out of the sale.
If the city doesn’t acquire the lot in a timely manner and the neighborhood can’t raise the funds, then the property will have to go on the market to the highest bidder, she said. “Because then we’re out of options.”
Supervisor Scott Wiener and Todd David of Friends of Noe Valley will both be speaking about the town square, among other issues, at the March 16 meeting of the Noe Valley Democratic Club, at St. Philip’s Parish Hall, 725 Diamond Street, 7:30 p.m. All are welcome.