Telegraph Hill NIMBYs vow to cut development down to size on Sansome Street

Residents of historic neighborhood call 85-foot high condo complex “assault” on the community

995 Sansome Street in Telegraph Hill (Google Maps)
995 Sansome Street in Telegraph Hill (Google Maps)

A housing development near Telegraph Hill is challenging the traditionally strict rules of what can be built there.

The 700-member Telegraph Hill Dwellers, founded in 1954, has held sway over design standards in the picturesque district centered on one of the seven hills of San Francisco, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. It helped kill residential towers proposed for Washington Street, mixed-use projects at Piers 27-31, a Rite Aid in North Beach and a six-story building by the Filbert Street steps.

A new proposal from developer Aralon Properties for a 10-story, 57-unit residential condo complex at 955 Sansome Street is receiving a lot of criticism from locals calling it an “assault” on the community and a “money grab” by developers.

Telegraph Hill was one of the first neighborhoods in San Francisco to reduce the height limits for buildings. Aralon Properties’ proposed project, which would replace a two-story parking garage at the corner of Sansome and Vallejo streets, would qualify for the 85-foot-high zoning allowed for Sansom–and ultimately tower about 60 feet over the rest of Vallejo Street.

Aralon Properties has adjusted the plans in response to concerns from local residents, including the removal of office space and a reduction in the amount of parking. Aralon also added 14 units of affordable housing to the plans to provide more housing for middle-income residents, but the height of the project still has residents up in arms.

“This is a money grab–we would be glad for them to do 57 units at 40 feet,” Vallejo Street resident Greg Giachino said. “I’ll go to the Board of Supervisors and say ‘please do that.’ But I’ll have the whole neighborhood here fighting this project if they are going to go up (10 stories).”

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Due to it being a historic district and having a lack of open lots, Telegraph Hill hasn’t had much new housing developed over the past 40 years. One of the biggest issues up for debate at the first meeting to discuss the proposed project was the potential loss of views of the surrounding area for current residents. However, views are not protected under the California Environmental Quality Act and were not discussed at the two subsequent meetings.

Residents say the developer is also motivated by the views offered in the area, however, as the penthouses in the proposed building will have views of the bay above the historic buildings on Sansome Street. The upper floors of the building will cost $3,000 per square foot, while those without a bay view will cost half of that.

San Francisco State University political science professor Jason McDaniel said if the city rejects the project, it will likely draw scrutiny from state housing officials, who are already investigating whether the city broke the law by rejecting projects at 469 Stevenson and 450 O’Farrell streets.

“It’s affluent people who like to control what happens around them and don’t want things to change,” McDaniel said. “For a long time that worked for them but the politics have changed. Now there is at least competition on those ideas. The idea that we can’t replace a parking structure with housing at least has some push back.”

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