SF rejected condo, Starbucks development years ago. Now it’s back

A decade after the San Francisco Planning Commission rejected a Duboce Triangle condo development because of opposition to plans to put a Starbucks Coffee shop on the ground floor, the project is making a comeback.

And this time there will likely be no stopping it, thanks to a new state law that gives “ministerial” approval to housing developments on commercial corridors.

On July 12, developer Chris Foley filed an application to build a 20-unit mixed-use development at 2201 Market St. — 20 units over a Starbucks — becoming the first San Francisco property owner to use Assembly Bill 2011, a state law that went into effect July 1.

By enacting AB2011, the project at 2201 Market St. will not have to go through environmental review. It will not require Planning Commission approval. Nor will it have to receive the conditional-use authorization required for chains like Starbucks in many of the city’s retail corridors. Under the law, the city has 60 days to rule whether AB2011 applies to the project and another 90 days to give a final stamp of approval.

Foley said the new iteration of the proposed flatiron building at Sanchez and Market streets will also use state density bonus laws to increase the number of condos to 20, an increase of seven from the 13-unit proposal that the Planning Commission shot down in 2013.

“I have had this thing on my plate for 10 years,” Foley said. “We had a broken 13-unit project and now we have a super cool 20-unit project.”

While it will not be applicable in many parts of San Francisco, AB2011 was conceived of as a way to revitalize wide retail boulevards and dying shopping centers in suburban locations like El Camino Real in San Mateo County. It requires that streets be 75 feet wide and be located within a zoning district where office, retail and parking are principally permitted uses. It requires a minimum of 50 feet of frontage along a commercial corridor and can’t be used on or next to industrial sites.

While the law would not apply to the intimate shopping strips in areas like North Beach, Chinatown, Hayes Valley, West Portal or Bernal Heights, it will work on broad thoroughfares like Geary Boulevard, Market Street and the busy east-west streets that run through the South of Market, like Folsom, Harrison and Bryant streets. 

So far there seems to be little outcry about the proposal, perhaps a reflection of the fact that retailers and restaurants have been shutting down in droves, leaving vacant and boarded-up spaces in many neighborhoods. Even Starbucks has not been immune to the city’s spreading malaise, shuttering stores in Union Square, Westfield Centre and SoMa.

Frank Tizedes, president of the Duboce Triangle Neighborhood Association, said the vacant site at 2201 Market St. — the site of a long-closed real-estate office — has been an eyesore and transient gathering spot in recent years, and he welcomes a fresh start for the property. 

“Bringing business back to life and having an active merchant community is a huge priority,” he said. “That property has been extremely blighted, and it’s just gotten worse over the last couple of months. Most neighbors just want something happening in those vacant spots.”

He acknowledged that the Castro and Duboce Triangle are well-supplied with coffee shops, and said that a chain like Starbucks is unlikely to drive any of the smaller mom and pop cafes under. 

“The biggest issue facing our local coffee shops is all those people who sit there all day on their laptops and drink one cup of coffee,” he said.

Supervisor Rafael Mandelman said he didn’t expect much outcry either. 

“I am unaware of anyone who would be unhappy if that project were developed,” he said. “I think people will be pleased that the project is getting going and even happier when it gets built.”

San Francisco Planning Director Rich Hillis said the site is an appropriate place for AB2011.

“This is a project we would support, and I think it’s a proper use of ministerial approval,” he said.

The acceptance of the project is a far cry from the atmosphere in 2013 when 41 residents showed up at a commission meeting — 25 speaking in favor and 16 against. The commission voted 5-1 to kill the development.