Noe Valley Voice February 2001

Apartments and Shops Likely to Fill Dan's on 24th Street

By Elliot Poger

If you've been shopping for a new Ford Behemoth with an eye on parking it at the site of the former Dan's Auto Service, you might want to focus on renewing your Muni Fast Pass instead.

It appears certain that the prime 24th Street space, coveted by many Noe Valley residents and merchants as an ideal location for a parking lot, will be converted into a four-story complex of apartments and retail shops.

A local developer is in contract to purchase the dormant site at 3865 24th St. (at Vicksburg Street) from owners John McCarthy and Fred Hornblower. The developer has hired land-use attorney Claire Pilcher to assist with planning and obtaining permits for new construction.

She declined to identify the developer pending the completion of the deal, which is expected shortly.

Pilcher said the development proposal is still at a "very preliminary stage." Nonetheless, she has already approached several neighborhood residents' groups with early proposed details.

At a Friends of Noe Valley meeting in December, with about 15 residents in attendance, Pilcher said the development would be similar to the residential-retail complex developed by Joe Cassidy next door to Bell Market at 3930 24th St.

Pilcher also told the Voice that the project would consist of three or four retail stores on the ground floor, with 18 apartments occupying the top three floors. As a concession to concerns of nearby neighbors, the developer's plan also calls for a 25-foot-deep back yard to serve as a green-space buffer between the project and the rear yards of residents on Jersey Street.

Perhaps most ambitious is the developer's proposal to include as many as 31 parking spaces underneath the building in an effort not to exacerbate traffic congestion in the neighborhood. The parking would exceed the city's requirement of one space per residential unit.

Pilcher, who has often represented neighbors in negotiations concerning new developments, says she is sensitive to the neighbors' concerns about the site, and that her desire is to "have a positive effect on parking in the neighborhood.''

The 18 residential units would be built as condominiums--a routine strategy apartment developers use to avoid having to seek condo approval sometime in the future. But Pilcher said the developer "has no intention to sell them off" as condos.

Pilcher also said the site has been "certified" as free of any toxic contamination. In the 1980s, waste oil and gas leaked into the soil from underground storage tanks, and it took several years--starting in 1990--to clean up the grounds.

The auto service site has been a Noe Valley fixture since McCarthy's father opened a gas station there more than 70 years ago. Wayne Rosemont took over 16 years ago, leasing the property from McCarthy and Hornblower. Rosemont stopped selling gas seven years ago and concentrated on providing Noe Valley residents with auto repair and service.

Last August, however, Rosemont suddenly shut down, declaring that high overhead costs forced him out of business. Initial speculation about the property's future centered on its possibilities as a neighborhood parking lot, perhaps similar to the one created by area merchants next to Hopwell's Restaurant more than two decades ago.

Indeed, several bids to purchase the property came from local merchants and the Noe Valley Ministry with the intent of building either a parking lot or garage on the site. Bob Roddick of the Noe Valley Merchants and Professionals Association and others also sought help from Supervisor Mark Leno.

Ultimately, however, the $3.5 million price tag for the four-lot site (10,800 square feet) was more than the city or local groups could afford.

Because of the city planning process, Pilcher said it would take approximately six months once the deal closes before construction would begin. She said she plans to meet in March or April with local residents to discuss the proposal further.

Incoming Friends of Noe Valley president Dave Monks said he appreciates Pilcher's open approach to the project and said that "it's been a good discussion so far." Monks and other members of the group have already given the developer some feedback on the proposed plans.

Their ideas include a sizable setback from the sidewalk, with some greenery and seating areas, to create an inviting pedestrian plaza in front of the building. Residents have also encouraged the developer to make the shops less tunnel-like and with higher ceilings than the ones in the Cassidy complex next to Bell.

"This is the last open space on 24th Street," said Monks. "We should raise the bar a little here. The merchants might want to weigh in on this, too."

Monks advocates the hiring of an accomplished architect to create a "well-thought-out" structure that enhances the character of 24th Street. "Let's build something nice, something that will catch your eye."