Frequently Asked Questions



What's really so bad about this proposed project?

Destruction of Historic Buildings

History Worth Protecting: The proposed project would destroy historic industrial buildings that have existed on the three-acre property site since 1908. Constructed for use as the factory headquarters of pioneering San Francisco-based steel fabricator Pacific Rolling Mill, the buildings embody an important part of Potrero Hill's industrial and working-class history. New evidence supports the historic protection of all of the structures on the property, which include two metal-clad warehouses and a single red brick office building built between 1908 and 1926. A highly respected local architectural history consultant retained by Save The Hill recently issued a report that in essence determined that all of the existing buildings were indeed historic. Moreover, the Potrero Hill Area Plan specifically calls for the retention, rehabilitation, and adaptive reuse of significant cultural and historic properties. Policy principles include: "Ensure that historic preservation concerns continue to be an integral part of the ongoing planning processes..."

For more on the site's historic value, see the following documents:

Fake Versus Real Adaptive Reuse: The proposed plans exploit community desire for both adaptive reuse and historic preservation without delivering either. Illustrations reveal that the developers will retain a mere 1 - 3% of the existing complex of buildings (approximately 1,050 sq. ft. - 3,550 sq. ft. of the 109,000+ sq. ft. of existing building space). Developers indicate they "hope" to preserve a minuscule portion (2,500 sq. ft.) of the metal warehouse now stretching along the eastern flank of the site, but in the end even that may wind up as new construction built to imitate the style of the original building. This inadequate gesture clearly represents an attempt by the developers to placate neighbors rather than a genuine effort toward achieving a true adaptive reuse project that also honors the history of the site.

Not Eco-Friendly: Demolition of the Corovan buildings remains the least eco-friendly choice for the site and has the potential to release significant amounts of airborne particulates and toxic wastes into the environment. Demolition also conflicts with Potrero Hill Area Plan principles that serve as the guiding master vision for developing our neighborhood. These principles call for promoting sustainability in development through the "green strategy" of rehabilitating and reusing historic buildings.

Heights, Density, and Traffic

The Road To Gridlock: As proposed, the Corovan project would be one of the largest, densest building developments in Potrero Hill history. With close to 400 units of housing and more than 20,000 square feet of commercial retail space, the project will significantly worsen traffic and parking congestion. The site is located in a traffic-sensitive area where other large developments are underway. The proposed project's sole entry/exit point into an underground parking garage will be on Mississippi Street, a two-lane road already crippled by traffic commuting on and off I-280 at Mariposa Street. Additionally, the potential inclusion of a high-speed rail line at the intersection of 16th and Mississippi Streets has not been realistically evaluated in the developers' proposal, nor has the potential teardown of the I-280 freeway.

The developers, Prado Group and Walden Development, claim the planned future Owens Street "connector" in Mission Bay will significantly alleviate traffic congestion associated with their proposed project. That nonsensical claim has been refuted by studies projecting a continued explosion of traffic in our area, a serious factor that threatens to degrade our quality of life. The threat to pedestrian safety would also multiply. Lastly, San Francisco simply does not have adequate funds (nor a funding mechanism to raise sufficient capital) for infrastructure improvements necessary for the proper handling of such a large development at this location nor at other sites across the Eastern Neighborhoods.

Inconsistent With Area Plan and Environmental Study: The height and density of the proposed project (68 feet to 82 feet and 394 residential units) violates numerous terms set out in the Showplace/Potrero Hill Area Plan, a document developed by neighborhood residents over a period of years and accepted into San Francisco's official zoning guidelines for this neighborhood. The Eastern Neighborhoods Environmental Impact Report (EN EIR) did not consider or anticipate a project of this size, height, or density at this specific location. In fact, all of the analyses completed for the Eastern Neighborhoods anticipated an actual reduction of the height on the Corovan parcel to between 45 feet and 50 feet. The lower heights and density were part of a community-driven proposal that residents, working with San Francisco City Planners, starting in 2001, had championed. But lobbying by Walden Development helped derail the community's proposal in favor of zoning that increased heights and density. Recently, the developers have insensitively and indefensibly lobbied to secure a "Community Plan Exemption" on environmental review in what constitutes an assault on the Potrero Hill community and taints both the planning process and the developers' reputation as a good neighbor. The developers have violated multiple Area Plan principles including provisions to "respect the natural topography of Potrero Hill", lower building "heights from the north to south side of 16th Street", and "promote preservation of other buildings and features that provide continuity with past development." In sum, the developers' proposal completely disregards the spirit and intent of the Showplace Square/Potrero Hill Area Plan and earlier community-based proposals.

Exploiting Loopholes: The developers' drawings conveniently disguise the 78' and 82' high mechanical penthouses that push the building heights well above the 68' height limit. These penthouses only serve to provide access to luxurious amenity rooftop decks for high-paying building tenants. Contrary to the developers' misleading and false claim, rooftop decks are not required "open space" and should not (as the developers have done here) be counted as such. One of the resounding messages from the community to these very same developers during the Kaiser proposal was to stop exploiting loopholes that allow "eyesore" mechanical penthouses to exceed permitted heights. Ending this abuse of the mechanical penthouse loophole is a widely shared community position that's also been endorsed by the leadership of the Potrero Hill Boosters Neighborhood Association.

Potrero Hill Shouldn't Be A Development Dumping Ground: According to research figures compiled by the Potereo Hill Boosters Neighborhood Association our community has already far exceeded its projected fair share of housing development. Figures in the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan show Potrero Hill/Dogpatch were expected to receive 3,735 housing units between 2010 and 2025. As of June 2013, Potrero Hill/Dogpatch already had 4,250 housing units either built or in the development pipeline. These figures undermine hollow arguments by the developer of a "housing crisis."

Aesthetics and Design

Window Dressing on 16th Street: Architectural plans for the 16th Street side of the proposed project reveal an even worse building design than the earlier institutional Kaiser proposal. The structure now appears bigger, includes no varied articulations, and projects an "Anywhere, USA" façade instead of community-friendly character. The proposed window framing style is the architect's only nod to the neighborhood's industrial character. A giant mural has been exploitatively proposed for the façade of the building at the corner of 16th and Mississippi Streets to provide an artistic veneer to a fraction of the enormous structure and to suggest that residents' critiques about the formulaic design have been addressed. The proposal completely squanders the opportunity to treat this location meaningfully as a "gateway" into Potrero Hill.

Bad Mega-Project Precedent

As noted above, a project of this size and density at this location will set an entirely new and bad precedent of outsized projects for our neighborhood.

Insufficient 17th Street Retail: The latest plans by the developer show a limited amount of commercial/retail along 17th Street despite community input calling for contributions to a 17th Street retail corridor and building use that will complement rather than threaten Bottom of the Hill and other small businesses in this area. Conflicts with surrounding businesses over noise and parking will remain inevitable given that 135 units of housing are being proposed by the developers on 17th Street. Triple-paned glass treatments for the new residences will prove to be inadequate.

Formula Retail: The developers have not addressed whether they intend formula retail but they have hinted that it is something they will include in the project. Formula retail is not in keeping with existing neighborhood character of locally owned and operated small businesses.

Soil Hazards, High Tides, and Liquefaction Earthquake Zone: A key element of Prado/Walden's proposed project is an underground parking garage. The property site is located on artificial bay in-fill. It sits within designated high tide and liquefaction zones that make it unsuitable and potentially dangerous for underground development. A seismic fault also lies nearby. An analysis and review of the property by a professional engineering geologist and hydro-geologist raised numerous and disturbing red flags about the soil geology, hazardous waste, and seismic risks underlying the site. The analysis found evidence of "a high potential for the presence of hazardous wastes" underlying the property, including the likelihood of ground water pollution (due to the site's long industrial history), and sub-surface asbestos fibers. If disturbed by construction of an underground garage, these pollutants could quickly spread into our neighborhood. These conditions pose significant safety and health risks and make the site unsuitable for the construction of residential units, and most especially for the construction of sub-surface garages. According to environmental records, significant levels of hazardous contaminants remain in the soil. The developers appear to be pursuing residential development on the site in violation of a property covenant ("environmental restrictions"). A real estate property report flagged the site's environmental restriction with the following ominous conclusion: "... residential development will not be allowed due to toxic concerns." In a 2007 deposition, Walden Development President Josh Smith acknowledged that "environmental conditions" underlying the Corovan site could pose risks in seeking to build a residential development.

Bad Community Partners

Acting In Bad Faith: In its dealings with the Potrero Hill community, San Mateo-based Walden Development and San Francisco-based Prado Group have acted in bad faith. The developers' sole interest is to maximize building density and "flip" the property for a profit windfall. After buying the property in 2006 for more than $12 million, Walden Development falsely promoted the site as a Mission Bay property suitable for Mission Bay-type development. Since then, Walden Development has actively worked to subvert Potrero Hill's Area Plan by lobbying for zoning rules detrimental to Potrero Hill and ridding height and density limit caps set forth in a community plan championed by residents and drafted with the help of City Planning. In its dealings with City Planning, Walden Development has also promoted misleading and inaccurate information that has subverted the full and fair review of the historic eligibility of existing buildings on the site. In 2011, Walden's high-powered lobbyist-attorney Steve Vettel succeeded in pressuring and influencing the Planning Department to reverse its original decision that had identified all of the existing Corovan buildings as individually historic resources. Prado Group and Walden Development have continued to aggressively lobby staff and leaders in City government. They've also ingratiated themselves with faux neighborhood "community leaders" who do not represent the interests of the community, and who—in at least one case—have accepted money in the past from Walden to misrepresent the needs and interests of the neighborhood. The developers have opened their wallets to area community groups and members in a shameless bid to buy support and silence potential critics. Moreover, community presentations have been deliberately manipulated to limit collective questioning of the developers' plans. More background information on the developers can be found on our Corovan Developers In The News page.


Is Save The Hill NIMBY?

We've certainly been accused of it! But we don't agree. The essence of NIMBY-ism is to protest a proposed project in "my back yard" while being perfectly happy to have it in "your backyard", regardless of the consequences to you. That's not Save The Hill's position or situation. The shortcomings of the Corovan-site project as currently proposed are numerous for a number of very specific and very valid reasons. We are proactively working across "yards" to find a solution that will benefit all parties involved. We want the best for our neighborhood, and for our entire city.


What does a donation to Save The Hill go to?

Donations to Save The Hill are most welcome, and needed! Money we receive will go primarily to our legal fund. Some monies may also be used for administrative costs—such as printing flyers, etc.


Who can I talk to in order to learn more about the people behind Save The Hill?

We have a team of friendly and informed spokespeople. If you'd like to talk to one of us directly please email us at contact@savethehill.com and we'll go from there.