College of the Arts Wants a Bigger Canvas
By Yael Chanoff
The California College of the Arts (CCA) has proposed to alter the zoning on a property it purchased in 2011 that’s adjacent to its Eighth Street campus. The plot, which used to house a bus depot, was acquired as part of the college’s expansion plans, which include creating more instructional and exhibition space, as well as student housing. While CCA tries to secure approval from the San Francisco Planning Department and the Board of Supervisors for the zoning change – which requires a modification to the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan – it’s cleaning up the environmentally contaminated land it hopes to build on.
The property – which is bounded by Seventh, Eighth, Irwin, Channel, De Haro, and 15th streets – is currently zoned Production, Distribution and Repair-1. At the college’s request, District 10 Supervisor Malia Cohen has sponsored legislation that would re-designate the area as an Art and Design Educational Special Use District (SUD). SUDs are used for various purposes throughout San Francisco, though the “Art and Design Educational” nomenclature would be unique to CCA. According to the legislation, the new zoning definition would “facilitate the continued operation of California College of the Arts and provide a regulatory scheme for a potential future expansion of the campus.”
CCA’s director of campus planning, David Meckel, has made several presentations outlining the college’s plans at different neighborhood groups in recent months, and will continue his outreach to the community through the spring, when the legislation is likely to go before the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors. Meckel said he’s garnered positive responses to the SUD proposal.
Mathew Snyder, the Planning Department’s representative at the Eastern Neighborhoods Citizens Advisory Committee – an advisory body that provides input to the City in regard to implementation of the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan – called committee members’ response after Mackel’s presentation “generally positive.” After a Potrero Hill Boosters Neighborhood Association meeting – at which Meckel presented the college’s rationale for the zoning change and its potential building projects – the Boosters issued a letter in support of the proposed legislation. The letter noted that “our organization and our neighborhood did not work for many years on a neighborhood-wide Area Plan to see it tossed aside in a wave of spot-zonings a couple of years later.” However, “we do support the expansion and future development plans of the California College of the Arts.”
CCA is currently in the process of cleaning-up the land, which previously served as a Greyhound bus maintenance yard. “Although it looks like nothing’s going on, when we bought the property we assumed all the environmental clean-up responsibilities. So for 18 months we have been doing the clean-up,” Meckel said. The ground was contaminated by leaks from underground storage tanks that held diesel fuel. Greyhound conducted some remediation, but diesel contamination remained when CCA bought the property.
“All these years, Greyhound leaked diesel out into the ground; into the water,” said Albert Lee, senior inspector at the San Francisco Department of Public Heath, who has worked with CCA on clean-up efforts. According to Lee, in the initial stage all of the “broken and damaged tanks” were removed from the rubble, dirt and sand. “There is still residual contamination,” Lee said. “We’re doing a multi-phased extraction, using a soapy water solution to pump the diesel out.”
As part of the college’s “potential future expansion” the proposed legislation would permit “student housing, which would be limited to 750 beds on any parcel within the SUD boundaries.” The school currently has 250 beds of student housing, most of it located at its Oakland campus. According to Meckel, even if permitted the 750 beds aren’t likely to be built soon. “It’s just not realistic,” he said. More likely, student housing for the college might be built at Ninth and Mission streets, as part of a Panoramic Interests project. Panoramic purchased 104 Ninth Street in 2011, and plans to build 200 student housing units, in a project that developer Patrick Kennedy described as “green” for its prioritization of bicycle over car parking.
Instead of student housing, the Eighth Street property is more likely to be used for “instructional spaces and spaces to display student work. We’re busting at the seams for that kind of additional space,” Meckel said.
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