Dozens give input on Balboa Park Upper Yard development

Mission Housing directors Marcía Contreras (3rd from right) and Martín Ugarte (2nd from right) lead a break-out group discussion at the March 25, 2017 community meeting about the affordable housing construction planned for the Balboa Park Upper Yard site. Photo by Tony Bear!

First large public community meeting shares information, solicits opinions

Saturday, March 25, eighty people attended a three-hour community meeting at Balboa High School. The event, organized by Mission Housing Development Corporation staff, shared details about the affordable housing construction planned for the Balboa Park Upper Yard site, a vacant property at the corner of San Jose and Geneva Avenues in San Francisco. The 100-percent affordable rental housing planned for the site will be offered to low- and very low-income families, including some formerly homeless.

The goals of the meeting: to share basic information about the issues surrounding the mixed-use complex, and to get input from community stakeholders about ways the apartment building can best serve the Balboa Park neighborhood.

Mission Housing Executive Director Sam Moss opened the meeting. He acknowledged the years of community engagement that helped bring the project to fruition.

“Many organizations and individuals are responsible for getting us to here,” said Moss. A slide in the presentation thanked John Avalos, San Francisco District 11 Supervisor from 2009 – 2013.

“Supervisor Avalos and his staff put in years of tireless advocacy and community organizing that brought this project to light, from its first envisioning through convincing SFCity to buy the land and hold the Request For Qualification competition led to this day.”

Also recognized: A coalition of community stakeholders organized as Communities United for Health and Justice. CUHJ conducted dozens of community surveys, group meetings and face-to-face interviews with residents of District 11. The work helped define the community vision for the Balboa Park Upper Yard development.

Planning and zoning requirements, transit hub considerations

San Francisco’s Planning Department and the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development, also known as MOHCD, have specified various aspects of zoning and land use for the Balboa Park Upper Yard parcel. Much of the vision for the site was formulated in the Balboa Park Station Area Plan, developed in 2008 and 2009. The meeting began with a presentation detailing the city’s vision for the site.

The Transit-Oriented Development is being done in partnership with MOHCD, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA). The office of District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safaí will help Mission Housing coordinate all parties and keep the hopes and concerns of the entire community at the forefront of every decision.

All the parties are collaborating to upgrade transit facilities, and improve pedestrian and bike rider safety, along with the construction of the housing and community-serving ground floor spaces.

Scott Falcone, a long-time Balboa Park resident and an affordable housing development consultant to Mission Housing, outlined how the community planning process will progress, and discussed the development schedule. Then, Falcone and Moss clarified what goals the development will accomplish, beyond creating 80 to 120 units of affordable housing. “This is an opportunity to create a gateway into the neighborhood at this major transportation center,” said Falcone. “The development team is committed to working together with the community in a meaningful way, today and throughout the years to come.”

Anne Torney, AIA, partner at Mithun | Solomon, the architecture firm charged with designing the development, presented the opportunities and challenges the development faces. Some of the areas examined: SFMTA and BART considerations, street design, and neighborhood impacts. Developers hope to include community-serving ground floor spaces and public open space to for use by the apartment tenants as well as residents of the surrounding neighborhood. “Our goal is to balance the need for affordable units, and the desire for the building to fit-in with the neighborhood scale,” said Torney. “This is an opportunity to create a neighborhood-transforming asset.”

“We will be designing and building the Balboa Park Upper Yard development in a manner that produces a high-quality, enduring living environment.”

Four break-out groups allowed community members to drill down into particular topics about the development. The lively discussions included issues such as: the design of the building, housing affordability, circulation and transportation, and supportive services. The developers displayed enlarged visuals, and note takers recorded the feedback given. Community members offered opinions about important considerations, and gave optimistic solutions for the development team to consider. At the end of the meeting, all the participants heard highlights from the break-out group discussions.

Only the beginning

The March 25 meeting was the first in a series of large public community meetings this year, to ensure the community has considerable input. The development team already participated in meetings with District 11 community organizations and neighborhood resident associations in 2016, and earlier this year. These smaller meetings will continue.

In late May, at another large community meeting, the development team will present a range of construction scenarios based upon the community input obtained.

Aditi Mahmud, Project Manager at Mission Housing, organized the March 25 event. She looks forward to engaging more community partners to host future events. “Every community meeting should be accessible to people all over the Outer Mission/Excelsior area, so we are looking at a variety of venues for future events,” said Mahmud. “Thanks to John Neponuceno, the assistant principal at Balboa High, and his staff. They helped make planning our event smooth and painless.”

This fall, the developers hope to submit a community-endorsed plan for the development to the Planning Department.

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