Ingleside Wary of Balboa Park Project

Cameron Crowe

Standing in front of his produce store, Takis Galiatsatos takes a long pull from his cigarette and muses how a giant redevelopment project around the Balboa Park station will change his neighborhood.

The Balboa Park Station Area Plan, which took form after a series of neighborhood meetings in 2000, includes MUNI line changes, dense residential infill, and possibly something the neighborhood hasn’t had in more than 15 years - a supermarket.

“The truth is we don’t know how we will be affected,” said Galiatsatos, the owner of the Fruit Barn for six years. “What they’re doing down there will bring people into the community, but it could take business away. We just don’t know.”

What's certain is that the project will mean major changes for the OMI, the community in southern San Francisco comprised of Ocean View, Merced Heights and the Ingleside.

AvalonBay Communities, Inc. won the unanimous approval of the city Planning Commission last May to build the $65 million apartment building along Ocean Avenue. The apartments, which are expected to be rented at whatever the market will bear, will replace the Kragen and Wheel Works stores.

The apartments will be next to a new $65 million building at City College that will house education programs conducted jointly with San Francisco State University. That building is slated to open by the fall term.

The apartment complex is expected to sit atop a 28,000 square foot market, though no grocers have signed a lease. “The space is set up so that it can accommodate a larger retail store or multiple smaller ones,” said Meg Spriggs, AvalonBay’s senior development director. Construction is expected to last up to two years.

“Every time there is a story about a store moving into the community, a merchant doesn’t like it,” said Dan Weaver, a member of OMI-Community Action Organization and founder of the Ocean Avenue Renaissance Committee. “That means they would sell less coffee, less wine, less beer. But the community as a whole wants a market.”

Transit Changes
The Phelan Bus Loop will be redirected around the existing firehouse and sheltered waiting areas will be constructed to accommodate drivers and passengers alike.

Wider sidewalk layouts have been proposed to better connect the 5,000 daily BART riders at Balboa Park Station to the western portion of Ocean Avenue. The changes are crucial to “improve the economic vitality of the Ocean Avenue Neighborhood Commercial District,” according to the 2008 draft of the plan.

The Balboa Reservoir may turn into a children’s playground, a park, or an affordable housing project. The reservoir is co-owned by City College, which holds a 40 percent interest, and the city's Public Utilities Commission, which owns 60 percent, according to Weaver.

“The Balboa Park Reservoir was constructed in 1947, I believe, and it’s never had a drop of water in it,” said Weaver, chuckling. “But the water department insists that it is critical to their operation.”

According to the plan, if the PUC wants to use the reservoir for water storage, it should provide a roof structure upon which community space can be developed.

Mixed Reactions
“We are big supporters of this plan,” Tim Colen of the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition said during the 2009 Planning Commission meeting. “This is a perfect example of what Balboa Park can become.”

Some residents, however, don’t share the excitement.

“What about the traffic?” asked Bonnie Miner, a 21-year-old student at San Francisco State. “I hit city college traffic every day on my way to school, I can’t imagine what it will be like with a supermarket right there.”

To circumvent traffic, AvalonBay and MTA plan to extend Lee Avenue and Brighton Avenue across Ocean Avenue into the 237- car parking structure beneath the market to create a one-way flow of traffic.

The Lee Avenue extension will serve as loading access for the proposed grocery store. Loading hours for the store may be limited to 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. to avoid disturbing prospective tenants of the apartments during the night.