There has been much written about the proposed 8 Washington Street project on San Francisco's northeastern waterfront. We've seen the usual split between antichange forces and neighbors on one side, and smart-growth advocated, park enthusiasts, local businesses and workers on the other.
But if we could set aside the rhetoric for a moment, and look at our Embarcadero, look at this proposal, and look for what is in the best interests of the city, I am confident the majority of San Franciscans would join the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, The Chronicle and others who have urged approval of 8 Washington.
This battle is about more than one project; it is about envisioning what our waterfront could and should be; it's about the potential for use of the Port of San Francisco's surface parking lots, which span our entire waterfront. This is something the entire city should care about.
It is hard to imagine a more prominent location. It adjoins the city's largest building complex, off the foot of Market Street, where the city's street grid and buildings historically meet the waterfront. The design challenge is to enhance this site by creating a project at a scale and quality commensurate with its premier location. The 8 Washington design meets that challenge by replacing a surface parking lot and private tennis club with parks and pedestrian friendly, publicly accessible open spaces, housing, a new and improved club, ground-floor retail and underground parking. The design of the project is absolutely first rate, and includes an aquatics center, green roofs and a 4,500-square-foot play area within the public park along the Embarcadero.
The proposed heights for 8 Washington fit the scale of the area. The project graciously steps up, from 48 feet high along the Embarcadero, to a maximum of 136 feet high at the rear of the site, where the nearest residential building is the 230-foot-tall Golden Gateway apartments. The nearest office building is the 550-foot-high Embarcadero 4.
Parking is always controversial. Every planning study for the area calls for removal of parking from the waterfront. 8 Washington would remove an ugly surface parking lot and place parking underground, providing about 250 of the 1,000 public parking spaces removed around the Ferry Building marketplace in the last decade.
The project will greatly improve the pedestrian experience on the western side of the Embarcadero, a civic embarrassment with a parking lot and chain-link fence around the tennis courts. The proposed project includes mixed-uses at the sidewalk that finally will give the pedestrian a pleasant experience on the western side of the Embarcadero.
Eight Washington is the result of more than two decades of public planning, including the work of a 27-member advisory committee, 16 different neighborhood and stakeholder groups, and 70 public hearings in the '90s, resulting in the port's waterfront land use plan. Planning has continued, with an 18-month Northeast Embarcadero Study completed just last year. Now, we as a city have the opportunity to implement smart urban development consistent with hard-fought planning principles.
Urban planning experts from SPUR to the regional Bay Conservation and Development Commission to the Waterfront Design Advisory Committee to The Chronicle's design critic, John King, have decried the wide swaths of poorly configured and underutilized lots along the waterfront, particularly "the jagged teeth of the western side of the Embarcadero," as SPUR has referred to them.
Eight Washington provides the port, the city and the whole region with an opportunity to beautifully fix the most front-and-center of those teeth.
Jim Chappell is an urban designer who has been involved with the waterfront for more than 35 years, including 15 years as executive director/president of SPUR.