05/31/2012 04:04 pm ET Updated May 31, 2012

San Francisco's Controversial 8 Washington Project Moves One Step Closer To Reality (PHOTOS)

SAN FRANCISCO--Following a contentious public meeting held earlier this week, the San Francisco Port Commission unanimously voted to approve the 8 Washington project, a massive Financial District development that would be first new, high-rise construction on the city's waterfront in over a generation.

The venture would take the triangle-shaped, 3.2 acre lot across the Embarcadero from the Ferry Building that currently houses the Golden Gateway Swimming and Tennis Club and transform it into 134 units of luxury condos (ranging in price from $2 to $10 million), a nearly 400-space underground parking garage, 20,000 square feet of restaurants and retail, an aquatic center and an 11,500 square foot public park.


The Port, which has been making a concerted effort in recent years secure revenue-generating partnerships with private entities as a way to fund renovations on its rapidly deteriorating piers, will reap a sizable windfall from the deal in the form of a direct $3 million payment, $120,000 per year rent and a portion of the proceeds from earnings. It will also split the project's property tax revenue with the city.

The issue of 8 Washington was an important one for the Commission. Commissioner F.X. Cowley's refusal to follow an informal policy that all city commissioners resign from their positions when running for elected office. Mayor Ed Lee asked Crowley, who is campaigning to replace termed-out District 7 Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, to step down, but Crowley opted to stay on the commission until after the 8 Washington vote.

This week's Port Commission meeting saw a walkout by dozens of the building's critics, who initially came to the meeting to rally against the project. They eventually stormed out en masse to protest what they saw as the commissioners already having decided to give construction the go-ahead before the meeting even started.

"It's become apparent that there has been a lot of backroom dealing and that this public hearing is just for show," Janet Lautenberger, a neighbor and critic of 8 Washington, told the San Francisco Chronicle at the meeting. "We've made our complaints for years and [the commissioners] clearly are not listening."

Virtually every step of 8 Washington's approval process, in the works since 2007, has been fraught with controversy. When the Board of Supervisors rejected an appeal from the Ferry Building's management to overturn the project's environmental impact report earlier this month, it was only after seven hours of late night deliberations and over a hundred speakers coming out forcefully for or against the project.

While the Board ultimately came down 8-3 in support of the development, a number of supervisors still had serious concerns. Their gripes ranged from an insufficient number of units in the facility being dedicated to affordable housing to too much on-site parking.

Many also complain that, in light of San Francisco being named the most expensive rental market in the country, multi-million dollar housing isn't exactly the sort of new development the city needs most at the moment.

The project's developers, Pacific Waterfront Projects, want the building to rise to 136 feet; however, there's a height cap in the area of 84 feet. The structure would also cast a shadow on nearby Sue Bierman Park. Both the exceeding of the height limit and the shadow needed (and received) special exemptions from the Planning Commission in another marathon seven-hour session earlier this year.

Despite all the opposition, the project's millions of dollars in economic benefits and thousands of construction and retail jobs proved too enticing for most of elected San Francisco to pass up.

"Let's get those jobs going," Supervisor Mark Farrell told the San Francisco Examiner. "Let's get this moving. Let's get the project built."

The 8 Washington deal goes back to the Board of Supervisors in mid-June for final approval of the project's development deal.

Take a look at images of the proposed development below:

8 Washington Proposal

Correction: The article originally misidentified the Golden Gateway Swimming and Tennis Club.