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Forward Momentum
San Francisco Board of Supervisors approves two of the Bay Area's largest projects.
Treasure Island.
Courtesy Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

Earlier this month two of San Francisco’s biggest redevelopment projects passed their final bureaucratic hurdles. On June 7 the city’s Board of Supervisors signed off on plans for the 150-acre Parkmerced, a neighborhood on its southwestern edge, and on June 14 they gave final approval to Treasure Island, a 400-acre former military base situated 2 miles off the mainland near the Bay Bridge.

The time it took for the two megaprojects—with $1.2 billion and $1.5 billion budgets, respectively—to wend their way through the planning and approval processes differed considerably. For Parkmerced, with a single property owner, it only took five years. The Treasure Island plan, on the other hand, had to satisfy a slew of regulatory agencies and took over a decade. The build-out for both projects is estimated at 20 years but may take up to 30, depending on market conditions.

“Both of these projects are about creating compact, walkable neighborhoods,” said architect Craig Hartman of SOM, the firm that did the master planning for both.

Two aerial views of Treasure Island.
Courtesy Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (left) and SOM with dbox and CMG (right)

Parkmerced’s low-density suburban design, put together in the 1940s by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company—which also built Park La Brea in Los Angeles and Stuyvesant Town in New York—will be updated with local retail, a MUNI stop, and a fine-grained network of streets and pedestrian pathways. 1,538 units of aging garden apartments will be replaced with 7,200 units of new low and mid-rise buildings, while 1700 units in 11 existing towers will be preserved. Landscape by Thomas Church will be replaced, but SOM said they plan to preserve the project’s garden courtyards and radial layout. The plan protects the rent-controlled status for those displaced, but agitation over tenants’ rights led to a close vote (6 to 5).

Courtesy Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

While SOM will be designing some of Parkmerced’s new buildings, other firms will be invited to join in. “The idea is to have a number of different architects, with design excellence as the main selection criteria. We want to give the neighborhood that quality of authenticity, instead of the sameness that results when buildings are replicated and built all at one time,” said Hartman.

Treasure Island, with a mix of 8,000 low rise and high rise housing units and a denser core made of mid-rise buildings and skyscrapers, will also involve multiple architecture firms, since there are three developers: Lennar Urban, Wilson Meany Sullivan, and Kenwood Investments. The development covers less than 20 percent of the man-made island, which will have the majority of its land reserved for open space.

The first step, however, will be to prepare the island by stabilizing the soil and raising the grade. About half of the project’s funding was to come from the city’s redevelopment agency, but in light of its possible closure, the area has been recast as an Infrastructure Financing District (IFD), which allows the city to issue bonds to pay for it.

Lydia Lee