Herrera Fends Off Legal Challenge to Affordable Housing Project for Seniors

Superior Court ruling to help accommodate City’s changing demographics, while preserving historic landmark

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera today announced Superior Court Judge David Garcia signed a judgment rejecting a challenge to the St. Mark’s Tower development, a major senior housing project.

The challenge to the project began in April 2002, when petitioners Margaret Ropchan and the Franklin Corridor Preservation Committee filed suit against the City to block the St. Mark’s Tower development, a senior housing project which will both create additional senior housing (including affordable senior housing), and provide funds for the seismic renovation of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church located near Gough, Franklin, and Ellis Streets in San Francisco. The Board of Supervisors and the Mayor approved a conditional use permit and rezoning for the project in December 2001 and January 2002, respectively.

“This decision represents a big victory in the City’s efforts to provide affordable housing,” said City Attorney Dennis Herrera. “Development projects such as this are important to providing for San Francisco’s ever changing demographics, and for caring for people in their golden years. In the process we will also preserve one of San Francisco’s historic landmarks.”

The main feature of the project is a 23-story, 240-foot tall, 240-unit senior housing facility. The facility will also contain a center to provide social services to seniors and three levels of below-ground parking. The senior housing includes one level of Alzheimer care (15 units), seven levels of assisted living units (105 units), and thirteen levels of congregate/independent units (120 units). The property owner, Martin Luther Tower, Inc., intends to use the proceeds from rental of the property to the developer TSP San Francisco Development, L.P., to make long-awaited seismic repairs necessary to preserve St. Mark’s Lutheran Church.

The petition challenging the project claimed that the City’s approvals for the project violated the San Francisco Subdivision Code and Master Plan, and unconstitutionally “spotzoned” the property. The petitioners objected principally to the height of the proposed tower. Instead of one tall tower, the petitioners preferred two towers of 10 stories each, claiming that the shorter towers would be more in character with the pattern of development in the neighborhood.

Judge Garcia dismissed the case because the petitioners had failed to timely name either the developer or owner of the project in the suit, as required by California law.

Deputy City Attorney Andrew Schwartz represented the City. William H. Orrick of Coblentz, Patch, Duffy & Bass represented TSP. Stephen M. Williams of Fitzgerald, Abbott & Beardsley represented Margaret Ropchan and the Franklin Corridor Preservation Committee.