The Rock: "Alcatraz/San Quentin" Look Not Right for Pacifica
Juicy Jobs for Politicians: Big Bucks for Little Work

The Rock: Proposed Development Would Tower Above Highway 1

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FASSLER & ROBERTS RD.  copy 2Photo by Bob Pilgrim; renderings by the developer

By Todd Bray, Riptide Correspondent

On October 21 the city Planning Commission held a heavily attended Study Session about "The Rock," that humble outcropping (above at left) across from Sea Bowl. Also above are architectural renderings for "The Rock" proposal at 4545 Coast Highway, or to us locals, the southeast corner of Fassler and Highway 1.

Looking at the elevation and the four computer simulations above, the proposal is nine stories tall after all. Planning Director George White misrepresented the scale of the project in his study session notice by declaring the proposal to be only 41 to 45 feet tall. The proclaimed 22,000 square feet of commercial would be less than 9 percent of the overall project, which means the proposal is not a mixed-use development as claimed by White.

The proposal is a nine-story condo development with a five-story detached parking structure. Judging from the simulations, the applicant (who lives in Woodside) has put no thought into our surrounding community, as the project looks like it's on the Mendocino or Carmel coastline, not at the corner of Fassler and Highway 1.

The building is presented as two separate structures, but they share all utility and mechanical, so they are really one building, not two. The current proposal has 63 residential units, with two to three bedrooms each.

This proposal is a direct consequence of Caltrans' proposed Calera Parkway Project to widen Highway 1. In previous interviews, city planner Lee Diaz has stated that the proposal was always put off because of traffic issues associated with the project's residential units.

Even without possible highway widening, this new project should be shelved. But, of course, we now have a rubber-stamp planning director and a rubber-stamp planning commission, so this monstrosity is a real threat.
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Comments

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Todd: Your numbers are way off. The base tax rate is 1.257 percent. Plus, the sewer tax you omitted and other taxes for schools, etc.

On a $700,000 house, the tax bill is more like $10,000.

Plus, I doubt these would go for only $700,000. They would probably start a couple of hundred thousand more than your made-up numbers.

Larry, the staff report also said it considered the proposal a housing development. At the study session, the applicant asked about ratios, but George White told him, "There are none, but we know it when we see it."

Todd: What zoning changes are needed? According to the staff report, the existing zoning supports up to 63 residential units (based on 1 unit per 2,000 square feet of lot size). It seems to me that, as long as the developer includes some commercial, he can build the 40 or 63 condos.

The end result is that another commercial site in town is going to be developed as housing, which will be a missed opportunity at economic development. Sixty-three condos would bring in only about $75,000 in property taxes a year. (A $700,000 condo generates about $7,700 in property taxes, of which only about $1,200 goes to the city.) The city has no control over what commercial goes in, so it may or may not generate any sales tax. (The original concept of a 40-room hotel would bring in two to three times the revenue in hotel tax alone.)

Dan, I agree with you. That proposal is too massive and out of scale. It's really too bad because this sort of stuff, if presented in a modest fashion, would garner little opposition, but from statements by the owner last night, he would have to get at least 40 units approved to just pay for the project. This is a raw site. It would need everything added to it, from sewer access to water and utilities, and because of the zoning changes needed, it would require a public vote to do so.

The property, IMHO, is undevelopable, like the quarry, and for many of the same reasons -- a public vote for housing and a tremendous investment in infrastructure before one brick is laid.

It really is too bad. I hope Mr. Thalapeneni understands that he bought a white elephant.

I am not particularly opposed to building on that spot, and if this particular project was the reason for the destruction of the Open Space Committee, I am guessing that since this outcropping cannot be arrived at except across asphalt or by flying there that it wouldn't be the top candidate for where to defend our open spaces. This is my own guess as there is no Open Space Committee for me to ask anymore. I am not particularly opposed to building on that spot if it weren't so huge as to redefine what Rockaway Beach, Pacifica means, and possibly even what Pacifica, California means to the drivers who speed through on the new six-lane freeway. "Pacifica, isn't that the place with the penitentiary on the hill above the sound walls that we drove through back there?"

The turnout Monday night for an initial study session was extraordinary. Of note were questions by several of the new commissioners about the financial feasibility of the project if it were reduced in scale. Financial viability of a project is illegal for them to consider. The new commissioners need to read the handbook.

The developer was there himself, something I thanked him for but also pointed out how many folks showed up, and they didn't show up to say YES but rather to say NO. He got the message. I then asked if he'd be interested in hosting a neighborhood meeting at the VFW Hall to meet the Rockaway folks, something he seemed to readily agree to, which to me signals that he intends to move forward with the project.

Like the quarry, this parcel is undevelopable (in my opinion) because the developer, when asked by Planning Commissioner Sue Vaterlaus how small the project could be and still be financially feasible (a big no-no), he said 40 units of housing. To give that some perspective, 40 condos on The Rock would be equal to 40 units, each one the size of my house."

Since the property is zoned C1+ (commercial), if the zoning must change to accommodate the project to mixed use (or in this case, a housing development), the + sign in C1+ means that it would take a public vote to change the zoning, not just the usual rubber stamp of the Planning Commission or City Council.

Eric:

You get it.

These obstructionists have no say in the matter.

This may be the first of a one-two punch aimed at bringing in something only slightly less hideous. If the owner talked to any consultants, I can't imagine anyone advising him that this has a chance, but I can imagine this being paraded out first so that a second or third proposal that still has many of the same reasons for objections might get less flak from a population tired of fighting about it.

The developer and his colleague laughed when a comment was made about the vegetation in the design not being appropriate for the seaside. He said something about not being familiar with the seaside and apparently thought it was funny.

The whole design looks like it was Photoshopped out of St. Louis or somewhere in the Midwest and just plopped onto our coastal shore.

Dear Mr. Big Banker, I think I get what you mean -- "He who has the gold makes the rules" -- right?

Ugly, ugly, ugly.

I think he should build this crap in his neighborhood, in Woodside -- and not dump on us.

The staff report for the study session is interesting. It confirms that the planning permits from 1995 have expired. Also, the site is part of the Rockaway Beach Planning Area, and the property is supposed to be used for highway-oriented, visitor-serving commercial uses.

Further, it says that size of the buildings and garage "do not appear to be compatible with the surrounding neighborhood" and "the project appears to be more of a residential use than a truly mixed-use project." It's rare for the staff report to have anything negative to say about a project.

This thing is ugly, huge, and is going to cut a pretty large chunk out of the hill (25,000 cubic yards, with 22,000 cubic yards removed completely).

It's out of scale, and the armored base is going to be massively ugly. Carl hit it correctly; this thing is going to look like a fort, and will be the ugliest thing for several hundred miles of Highway 1, if built as rendered. And yes, it looks like it belongs on a suburban freeway interchange (not that it would look good there, either!).

Both ends of Sea Bowl Lane would become extremely unsafe, as impatient drivers try to get onto Highway 1 and Fassler. Of course,
they could always add another signal at the Fassler end. (No, it's not a good idea, but I can see somebody thinking it would "solve" the problem.)

"But since I am not paying for it, I'll have to accept." Wow. That's pretty funny. Is that what you say every time you get questioned?

The renderings fail to place the proposed project in context of the existing landscape, therefore it is difficult to get a sense of the true scale of the project.

But examining the Lee Gage & Associates portfolio of work indicates that it is primarily a designer of Central Valley budget hotels (see below). While I welcome any meaningful addition to the Pacifica community, I would be reluctant to endorse another generic addition to our landscape. For a local reference, please review the Hampton Inn & Suites 79-unit hotel in Burlingame.

California projects: Hampton Inn & Suites, Bakersfield, 94-unit hotel;
Hampton Inn & Suites, Fresno, 94-unit hotel; La Quinta Inn & Suites, Fresno, 72-unit hotel; Holiday Inn Express, Dinuba, 70-unit hotel; Fairfield Inn & Suites, Clovis, 87-unit hotel; Cambria Suites, Fresno, 129-unit hotel; Holiday Inn Express, Fresno (two locations), 85-unit hotels;
Hilton Garden Inn, Fontana, 115-unit hotel; Comfort Suites, Turlock, 62-unit hotel; Holiday Inn Express, Yreka, 70-unit hotel; Holiday Inn, Oakland, 147-unit hotel; Best Western, Lathrop, 81-unit hotel

Alan: If it had been approved as a hotel 16 years ago, then yes, the permits expired and it was never approved as housing.

Here comes "Miami Beach" all over again. 'ELL NO.

Thanks, Todd. That translates to at least 16 years the Sea Rock Inn was approved and remained on the back burner. So then, has the project's approval at least 16 years ago expired?

Todd: This guy purchased the property from Patco Investments for $850,000. Why don't your friends get together a couple of million bucks and buy it and leave it as is?

You hardly have a consensus here or on Fix Pacifica, Todd. We don't even know all the facts yet.

It seems the consensus here on Pacifica Riptide and on Fix Pacifica is the same: too big and too ugly. If the applicant lost the top half of the structure (four floors) and two of the five floors on the bottom structure, leaving it facing the ocean, and gave the building a veneer of shingles or some other iconic coastal facade, I don't think the proposal would have that much opposition. Sure it would be one-third the size it is now, with approximately seven units, but without this drastic kind of redesign, this project will get nothing but flak, and justifiably so.

I especially like the illustration with the sailboats so far into shore as to run aground. It's so scenic.

Before the historic military tie-in became clear to me, I was thinking something along the lines of an urban VA retirement home -- you know, something soul-killing so the residents would not live too long.

Alan, it's the same project. The printed info above even has Sea Rock Inn in one of the legends. If you look closely at the bottom right of the elevations, the first document above, it says Sea Rock Inn as clear as day.

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