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Historic Designation Push Threatens To Delay One Of San Francisco's Only Pending Laurel Heights Housing Projects

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Historic Designation Push Threatens To Delay One Of San Francisco's Only Pending Laurel Heights Housing Projects
Rendering of 3333 California St. project

Opponents of a large housing project in north San Francisco want the site to receive historic designation. Laurel Heights Improvement Association has nominated the University of California, San Francisco’s Laurel Heights campus at 3333 California St. to the National Register of Historic Places, the San Francisco Business Times reports. The office was built in 1957 and served as Fireman’s Fund’s headquarters until 1983.

Developers Prado Group and SKS Partners plan to build 558 housing units with 54K SF of retail, 50K SF of office and a child care center at the 10.2-acre site, replacing UCSF’s existing 455K SF office. 

The project is one of two in Laurel Heights that would increase density in the neighborhood. TMG Partners plans to build a 250-unit housing project at 3700 California St., currently a California Pacific Medical Center.

Opponents of housing projects have recently turned to historic designations to try to stall projects. A 75-unit housing project in the Mission District has already been delayed following a push by neighborhood groups to give a laundromat historic designation. The laundromat building was previously occupied by various advocacy groups during the 1970s and 1980s.

The Laurel Heights Improvement Association wants the developer to preserve the facade of the existing office and convert the building to housing. Opponents also want the project to stay under 45 feet, which is the current zoning height limit and are against the seven-story building height the developer proposed, which will require rezoning.

A historic designation doesn't keep the building from being demolished as long as no federal money is used on the property, according to the National Park Service. If a property owner objects to the designation, it won't be listed on the National Registry. The neighborhood association’s push for the designation could still delay the project and lead to more studies.

City staff has recommended historic designation, saying 3333 California St. represents the first major office built outside of downtown in a more suburban setting and represents modernist design principles of the mid-20th century.

The project has so far been on track with a 2019 approval date. The developers signed a 99-year ground lease with UCSF in 2014 and have worked toward getting the project approved over the last four years and have held 125 community meetings.

Project designers are Jensen Architects, BAR Architects and Solomon Cordwell Buenz.