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Coronet Theater to come crashing down for senior housing sanctuary

By Aldrich M. Tan

May 24, 2006

The Board of Supervisors disapproved an appeal to the Planning Commission's approval of an environmental impact report and conditions of approval to tear down the Coronet Theater on Geary Boulevard in order to build multi-story senior health services facility and housing project at a hearing Tuesday evening.

The decision authorizes the Institute on Aging, along with partners BAR Architects and the BRIDGE Housing Corporation, to demolish the existing 33,000 foot Coronet Theater and remove a 93-space surface parking lot. The new Institute on Aging facility would provide 30 supportive housing units and 120 studio, one-, and two-bedroom residential units of affordable housing for independent seniors.

"This has been an important project for seniors in San Francisco and their families," said David Werdegar, president of the Institute on Aging.

The Francisco Heights Neighborhood Association and the Jordan Park Improvement Association filed the appeal to call for the disproval of the 3575 Geary Blvd. project's final environmental impact report, attorney Brian Gaffney said. The Planning Commission certified the report at its meeting on April 6, 2006.

After listening to the companies and the neighborhood associations, as well as many seniors vying to move into the planned housing, the members of the Board of Supervisors voted 9 to 1 approving the Planning Commission's certification of the environmental impact report as objective and complete.

Supervisor Fiona Ma proposed several amendments to the conditions of approval for the 3575 Geary Blvd. plan to address neighbors' issues, specifically parking accessibility and neighborhood overall aesthetics. The Board of Supervisors approved the conditions of approval for the 3575 Geary Blvd. Project with the additional amendments.

The residents are in support of developing senior housing but they are not in support of the specific Geary project for a variety of reasons, Gaffney said.

"We believe that this project is out of context and scale for the neighborhood and will have detrimental effects to the city," Gaffney said.

Gaffney cited several flaws of the environmental impact report. For example, the Planning Department did not adequately look at morning traffic patterns or analysis of air impacts and parking problems.

Bill Wycko, spokesman from the Planning Department, said the department did do research on morning traffic and discovered that that evening was a higher impact period by 10 to 15 percent.

Parking is a key issue, said Richard Worner, co-president of the Jordan Park Improvement Association.

Original plans for the building made room for 35 full spaces, Worner said. The planning commission requested for the developers to establish a total of 65 parking spaces. The developers proposed to jam 28 more spaces for cars in garage aisles and a two-year trial period of valet parking.

The proposed basement conference center would also take up enough room for approximately 20 parking spaces. The comments and responses section of the Environmental Impact Report said the Institute on Aging would utilize the meeting room four times per month based on current practices

The response said 40 parking spaces will not be accommodated on-site and additional vehicles could park on the street where sufficient space is available in the evening.

"That means 40 extra cars will be competing for the little parking that we have available in our neighborhood," Worner said.

Gabie Berliner, who lives on Commonwealth Avenue, said parking in the area is hard to find and meetings in the conference center will make parking even more challenging.

"I pay $45 a year for residential parking permit but I can't even find parking on my own block," Berliner said.

Libby Benedict, president of the Francisco Heights Civic Association, echoed the community's feelings about public parking.

"We're scared to see limited parking in the buildings," Benedict said, "because the renters will most likely have cars. And if they can't park in the building, they will park in the streets."

Benedict said the building's construction will also lead to the creation of urban canyons and reduce the scale and visual interest of the neighborhoods.

Paula Krugmeier from BAR Architects said the latest design of the building incorporates much community input. The design incorporates a Mediterranean aesthetic to blend in with the overall architectural look of the community. Even though the height of the building is 72 feet, the rear of the building, which is closest to the Almaden Court neighborhood, is 59 feet.

"In the end, it has a welcoming residential appeal," Krugmeier said.

Architectural historian Bradley Weidmaier said the environmental impact report had some inaccuracies in the historical resources section.

The architect of the Coronet Theater is still unknown, according to the environmental impact report. Until recently, it was considered to be the work of Timothy Pflueger, a San Francisco-based architect who designed a number of important theatres and buildings during the first half of the 20th Century till his death in 1946.

Weidmaier claims public records found in the Department of Building Inspection reveal that Albert Walker should be credited as the primary architect behind the construction. Walker was a designer based in Los Angeles who worked exclusively in southern California during the first half of the 20th Century. The environmental impact report said the extent which Walker actually designed the building as portrayed in a 1946 permit drawings is unclear.

Wycko complimented Weidmaier for his research.

"There are indeed gaps in the historical record," Wycko said. "Useful information has been added but that doesn't change our conclusions."

Regardless of who constructed the building, the Coronet Theater does not meet the requirements to be listed as a designated San Francisco landmark, Wycko said.

The Mayor's Office of Housing supports the 3575 Geary Blvd. project, project manager Anne Romero said.

Contrary to notions that taxpayers would be funding the construction of the new Institute on Aging facility, the funds will come from Proposition A affordable housing funds that were authorized by a local bond initiative in 1996, Romero said.

The 3575 Geary Blvd. housing project would be part of the 2005 consolidated plan which has the goal of producing 900 affordable senior housing units within the next five years, Romero said.

One of the many seniors ready to move into the new complex is Marianne Duke. Duke is disabled and has severe asthma. Before she was disabled, Duke worked as a legal support staff and a companion to the elderly.

Duke said she receives a monthly pension of $1,231. Half of her funds are spent on monthly drug prescriptions and the price of rent for her apartment on 11th Avenue is always rising. In addition, Duke said her landlord has been loud and verbally abusive to all of his tenants.

"I have financially contributed to San Francisco for 32 years," Duke said. "I'd like the city to give back. I just want to have a quiet place that I can live the rest of my days at."

Supervisor Jake McGoldrick motioned in support of the environmental impact report.

"Considering the complicated issues around this project, these issues have been thoroughly examined in the report," McGoldrick said.

Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier voted against both the environmental impact report and rejecting the appeal. Alioto-Pier said she supports in-home services for the elderly but she also represents the Jordan Park community.

"I would feel a little better if we had something a little bit more concrete that shows no hesitation from the planning commission's side," Alioto-Pier said.

Supervisor Ma said she reluctantly supports the environmental impact report.

"If we were approving a business development, I wouldn't support it," Ma said, "but we're approving something that has social benefits."

Ma then proposed five amendments to the conditions of approval addressing the issues that the neighborhoods had with the plan.

"I went to both the appellate and product sponsors independently to get some agreements," Ma said. "Most of the key issues on both sides revolve around public parking."

Ma's amendments require the Institute on Aging to avoid temporary or double parking of vans on neighborhood streets and to participate in the Commuter Check program to make transit passes readily available to all of its employees. She also required the Planning Commission to make determination on valet parking, rather than the zoning administrator in the original legislation.

Ma also restricted the use of the basement level meeting facilities to weekdays after 6 p.m. and on weekends when employee parking spaces are vacant and available for use by meeting attendees. She also required the use of directional lighting facilities to reduce neighborhood glare to improve the community aesthetic.

Neighbor Gladstone Liang applauded Ma's efforts to improve the plan by addressing the neighborhood issues.

"We just want to work together on this project as a community," Liang said.

Completion of the mixed senior housing area should be complete by early 2009, said Carol Galante, president of the BRIDGE Housing Corporation.

United Artists closed down the Coronet Theater on March 17, 2005 pursuant to the lease agreement between the Institute on Aging and Regal Entertainment. The parking lot continues to operate for long-term and day-time parking. Completed in 1949 according to the report, the theater operated as a single screen theater till March 2005.




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