The Parkmerced Controversy

The Parkmerced Controversy

parkmerced rendering


Parkmerced is the second-largest single-owner neighborhood of apartment blocks west of the Mississippi after Park La Brea in Los Angeles. It is a planned neighborhood of high-rise apartment towers and low-rise garden apartments in southwestern San Francisco. The existing site, developed between 1941 and 1951, contains 3,221 residences and over 9,000 residents, and is one of four remaining privately owned large-scale garden apartment complexes in the United States. Parkmerced was a collaboration between architect Leonard Schultze and renowned landscape architect Thomas D. Church. The urban mix of tower blocks and townhouses, set amid courtyards and curved pathways, is signature Church design.

The controversy exists over preserving open space, affordable housing  and the Church design vs. creating transit oriented development. The proposed Project is a long-term (approximately 20-30 years) mixed-use development program to comprehensively re-plan and redesign the approximately 116-acre site (152-acres including streets). The Project intends to increase the residential density, provide new commercial and retail services, provide new transit facilities and improve existing utilities within the site.

Of the existing 3,221 residential units, approximately half of the units located within the 11 existing towers would remain. The remaining apartments would be  replaced in a phased work program. As required by the proposed Development Agreement, these replacement units would be subject to the San Francisco Rent Stabilization and Arbitration Ordinance and existing tenants in the to-be-replaced buildings would have rights to relocate into the new units at their existing rents. An additional 5,679 net new units would also be added for a project total of 8,900 units. New buildings on the site would range in height from 35 feet to 145 feet, and would not be taller than the existing towers, which will remain.

Historical and architectural preservation groups, as well as a few environmental groups, have gathered on one side of the issue, with the developer, the SF Planning Department, and a loose coalition of social and environmental activists on the other, including SF Housing Action Coalition and SPUR. Tom Leader Studio in Berkeley has been working on the award-winning master plan. ASLA-NCC sees both sides of this issue and is presenting this information in the hopes that members will be informed enough to discuss how to best approach densification of urban areas in relation to issues of transit oriented development, affordable housing and the preservation of cultural landscapes.

Presently the following organizations are interested in protecting Parkmerced:

These are formidable forces that for various reasons are still hoping to keep the community without change. In the meantime, the city planning department has published project guidelines. The Vision Plan provides a good overview of the purposes and major components of the project.

CORRECTION: This post has been modified from its original form. In the original post, we mentioned Novemebr 2013 as a planning deadline. The Parkmerced project was approved by the Planning Department in February 2011 and by the Board of Supervisors in May 2011. An appeal to the EIS was overruled in December 2012.


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