There’s a tract of land in India Basin that’s one of San Francisco’s best-kept secrets: 14 acres of wild waterfront grassland that is home to coyotes and hawks and a destination for weekend anglers fishing for stripers.
Chances are it won’t be secret for long.
Build Inc. has purchased the property at 700 Innes Ave. for $15 million and is preparing a proposal to construct about 900 residential units there. While the developer is putting together its preliminary planning application, company representatives have been meeting with the India Basin Neighborhood Association to discuss scenarios for the site.
“They have been running ideas past folks in the neighborhood, which is laudable,” said resident Michael Hamman, whose building overlooks the site. “They are listening. Nobody is ready to start throwing rocks at them – yet.”
Build Inc. principal Michael Yarne said his firm is leaning heavily on a “community vision” that the neighborhood association released in 2010. It calls for a “complete neighborhood,” with a balance of retail, parks, maritime activities and housing. There would be a 300-foot-wide shoreline buffer zone, 40-foot height limits, a boating center and a restaurant row to the north.
“We want people who are going to move here, put down roots and raise a family,” Hamman said. “We are pushing against the tide because the money for the developers is in bedrooms – nothing else.”
While the neighborhood plan envisions about a third of the number of units that Build Inc. is contemplating constructing, Yarne said his group is “taking that community vision seriously, and our vision has grown from that.”
“We are committed to working with them to create a complete neighborhood, attracting services that are missing in India Basin right now, largely because there is not enough density to support them.”
The Build Inc. property sits between two other significant projects. To the north, at 900 Innes Ave., the city recently purchased a 2.4-acre parcel to convert to parkland. To the south is the largest development project in the history of San Francisco: Lennar Urban’s $7 billion, 745-acre redevelopment of the Hunters Point Shipyard and Candlestick Point. The first 247 units out of about 12,500 are under construction and are being marketed for sale. The fence that runs along the northern edge of Lennar’s property marks the beginning of Build Inc.’s India Basin land.
The India Basin sub-district of Bayview-Hunters Point isn’t crowded with residents. Houses line Innes Avenue, and up the hill are the San Francisco Housing Authority‘s recently renovated Hunters View residences. There’s a variety store called Surfside Liquors – outside, retired men barbecue, chew the fat, and play cards or dominos.
Given the size of the Lennar project, and the fact that its early phases don’t include retail, India Basin residents say the Build Inc. project has the potential to become a retail center for the entire area.
Kofi Bonner, executive vice president with Lennar Urban, said: “Our development is, obviously, very large. Hunters View is large. Build Inc.’s parcel is large. These three became data points for development, which typically spurs smaller infill developments, and that is where it really gets exciting for the community.”
Whatever Build Inc. proposes is bound to be a vast improvement over the last proposal for the property. In 2004 the Acosta family, which paid $17 million for the property, proposed three 650-foot towers for the site, a concept dubbed Harbor Village Resort. The project was so out of scale with neighborhood zoning, and so contrary to what the Bay Conservation and Development Commission would allow, that the property owner was practically laughed out of City Hall. The project eventually went bankrupt and the lender took back the property.
Not to say that the current approval process will be smooth. The people of India Basin are fiercely protective of what they have. They currently have access to and enjoy the land now owned by Build Inc. They walk their dogs there. They build whimsical sculptures along footpaths and have improvised a little sitting area with barbecue equipment, a hammock and lawn chairs.
Hamman, a contractor who moved to San Francisco from North Carolina during the 1967 Summer of Love, lives in a converted boatbuilding barn that overlooks the property. Hamman has a rotund sheep named Shaun and half a dozen chickens. He keeps bees and tends a garden with corn, chard, tomatoes and blackberries.
“India Basin has the most fantastic weather on the planet. Look at these tomato plants, look at the chard, look at the corn,” Hamman said. “If you told your readers that there is a guy growing corn in San Francisco that was as tall as he was, they would run out and say he was a liar.”
He said the community is committed to protecting the sense of wilderness that currently exists, something that Yarne said he understands.
“One of the messages we have heard loud and clear is that the residents want to protect the wild and feral character that makes it so special,” he said. “We think that’s a laudable goal.”
Yarne said Build Inc. is talking to the city about a joint project to create a seamless open space. The park could eventually grow even larger once PG&E completes cleanup of the shuttered gas power plant to the north of the 900 Innes land. “We are looking at the entire basin as an integrated whole,” Yarne said.
PG&E spokesman Jeff Smith said the cleanup of the old gas plant is 95 percent complete. He said the city has a right of refusal to develop the property. “No specific long-term plan has been announced or determined.”
Build Inc. is also talking to an affordable-housing developer about incorporating a significant amount of for-sale housing targeted at middle-income families, he said. Jack Gardner, president of the John Stewart Co., a developer and residential management company, said his group has been in talks with Build Inc. about the affordable-housing component.
“I’m glad we are not the only new kids on the block,” Gardner said. “It’s great to see other people come in and place bets on the neighborhood, not run roughshod over the existing residents, and make sure it doesn’t gentrify or displace the existing community.”