Noe NIMBYs Can't Thwart Next-Door Neighbors

In San Francisco's charming, family-friendly and desirable Noe Valley neighborhood, a nasty fight between relative newcomers caused migraine-inducing eyerolls.

Noe Valley Three Bedroom Home

Photo Courtesy of Edmonds + Lee Architects In this rendering by Edmonds + Lee Architects, you can see all the players: Gilpin, who brought the complaint, owns the wide, elaborate home on the left. The proposed home is in the middle. A third home, whose owner provided a letter of support for the new home, is on the right. 

Some call Noe Valley the Park Slope of San Francisco. Once a blue-collar mainstay, the area surrounding 24th Street west of the Mission became a stroller juggernaut in the 1980s, dotted with natural-wood-toy emporiums, brunch boîtes and wine stores. And it's only gotten more desirable since it got its own Whole Foods, which employs two full-time parking-lot babysitters to keep the peace. 

Since it was mostly settled right after the 1906 earthquake, the architecture of Noe Valley has always featured rows and rows of simple, practical Victorian and Edwardian cottages. But as you can imagine, as more wealthy people have moved to the neighborhood, more sleek and modern homes have been built to either replace eyesore buildings or fill in vacant lots.

One such project caused a bit of a ruckus over the past few months, a ruckus that has finally been resolved. It's been pretty amusing to those of us not in the 1% of people who can spend bajillions building dream houses on prime real estate. Did the better man win? Sure, relatively. But their battle feels a little bit like listening to two Real Housewives bicker over a Birkin bag. 

Here's what happened: In 2008 a massive, modern four-bedroom home with a one-bedroom in-law was built at 625 Duncan Street. As you can see from Google Street View, it is very pretty, but definitely stands out from the rest the street. Escrow closed before the house was even completed, with a sale price of nearly $6 million to tech exec Bruce Gilpin. It sat on a double lot next to an empty lot, which Mr. Gilpin did not buy.

Fast-forward to 2013: A fellow named Andy Greene bought the vacant lot and got permission from the city to build a spectacular four-story single-family home there, designed by Edmonds + Lee Architects and adhering to the San Francisco building codes.

This caused Gilpin to freak the freak out: He approached Greene with several requests for modifications, 10 of which Greene complied with, such as making the home one story shorter. Nevertheless, at the beginning of September, Greene was hit with a "Discretionary Review," in which one party petitions the city to halt another party's construction project.

The reason? In part, Gipin complained that this second ultra-modern, luxurious multimillion-dollar structure "lacks articulation and architectural features to establish a rhythm and transition that will enhance the neighborhood’s character."

Greene's team shot back, "The subject block contains properties that are from one to three stories in height that were constructed between 1908 and 2007, resulting in a mixed visual character." That 2007 house is, of course, Gilpin's.

The 151-page document goes on and on, detailing each objection and its rebuttal. At one point, Gilpin's side complains that "As the neighbors directly adjacent to the proposed building, we would be most directly and adversely affected. Construction ... will limit the incoming natural light to our home and create an inappropriate cave-like entry to our entry stairs and front door." 

Both sides garnered neighborhood support, with a petition supporting Gilpin and letters of support supporting Greene. The document even includes a post from detailing the fancy-fancy home bought by Gilpin, which up until that time was the most expensive home on the block.

The comments on the article about Gilpin's residence say things like:

Crimey [sic], that's an ugly bloated building. I think with the modesty that will come from hard times, that house will look repulsive.
this is not the real noe valley
I talked to the GC at the site 2 months ago. The couple (who purchased the shell) did in fact have more $$ then sense and overpaid for stupid not even custom finishes (floors cabinetry plumb etc) from the design center and paid FULL RETAIL.
I would be concerned about the vacant lot next door. Who knows what kind of monstrosity could appear there in the next year or so. 

As for that last comment ... tee hee! Meanwhile, the petition against Greene's residence contains complaints such as: 

I have lived in Noe Valley since 1979 and have been watching its humble working-class/middle-class character change radically. Monster houses would not fit in ...

I'm a native San Franciscan and have seen many good and bad changes to the city. This is a bad change. Who on God's earth needs a 5-story home? And in Noe Valley?

 I'm not a NIMBY (can't be - I have a 3,000 sq ft house going up in the lot behind me on Fountain replacing a 1,500 sq ft property...), but the Duncan Street project is too much.

I walk by this curve almost daily ... There is one behemoth at 4 floors on the east side of the proposed lot which dominates as far the biggest structure - certainly no new structure should be larger than that!

That last one is the saddest of all, as the earnest petition-signer clearly has no idea that the "behemoth" he so despises is owned by the very man he's signing the petition to support. Le sigh.

At any rate, Greene's team batted back every allegation, adding that Gilpin had admitted to wishing he had bought the vacant lot in the first place. It finally concluded with a peevish, "Commissioners, we regret that this matter has had to come before you. The project sponsor made every attempt to arrive at a settlement with the DR requester to no avail."

As of this week, the Planning Commission found that Gilpin's complaints were baseless and Greene was allowed to proceed with construction. So, yay! A hypocritical owner of a large, luxurious residence was not allowed to stop a similar luxurious residence from going up on the vacant lot next door. But ... yay? Another large, luxurious residence worth many millions is going up on this street?

And so it goes.

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