One Hurdle Cleared With Transamerica's Twisty Sidekick

Friday, Mar 19, 2010  |  Updated 11:45 AM PDT
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AP

The Transamerica building towers over Chinese storefronts in San Francisco's Chinatown.

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There are still more checkpoints to get through, but as we broke on the TwitterWire Thursday, 555 Washington's environmental impact report was certified after a stormy meeting at the Planning Commission.

This is, if you'll recall, the second meeting to decide the fate of the proposed 400-foot condo tower next to the Transamerica Pyramid — and it won't be the last, since a few items from the agenda yesterday were postponed for another month.

Rather than rehash everything that came up last month (though that did more or less happen), commissioners yesterday ended up focusing on the two leading concerns of the day: bird strikes and redwood trees!

One commissioner suggested that "opponents" were "grasping at straws," which set off a fiery monologue from said commissioner, who said heatedly that she didn't appreciate the "insults." When all was said and done, however, the votes fell in favor of the environmental impact report, which one commissioner said managed to do its job even if it was strangely packed full of "value judgments."

The redwood trees part of the Transamerica's private-ish park were another issue. Wife of former Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, Nancy Shanahan, pointed out that the new, expanded redwood park that would ostensibly be gifted to the public under the development proposal would be like a "condo," with developer Aegon retaining underground and air rights, and the city holding on to the park's "cube" in between.

What happens when the trees grow taller than the cube? Nothing, the developer insisted. In any case, a landscape architect at the ROMA Design Group assured tree partisans that the whole design of the new park was geared toward refurbishing the setting so the trees could live in a healthier environment — and that the underground parking wouldn't ruin them for all posterity.

By the way, this being a joint hearing between the Planning and Rec & Park commissions, park commissioners were actually sitting in on the hours-long debate even though they weren't yet voting on their portion of the deal. When it finally came to their turn — where they were asked to raise shadow limits on Maritime Plaza and to set a limit on Sue Bierman Park — they took a "short and sweet" unanimous vote in favor and ended the whole thing in minutes.

That "astounded" one planning commissioner, who then spent a few minutes accusing them of shirking their duties. (Wish you'd tuned in now?) Both commissions had voted in favor of environmental findings stating "overriding benefits" that include "technical, social and economic reasons" for approving the project, despite some negative impacts. Park commissioners thought the incalculably small sliver of new shadow on Sue Bierman Park was worth it given the opportunity to snag the redwood park, for instance, and cited the fact that park advocacy groups in the city agreed with them.

Tune in again next month, when maybe the Planning Commission will finally get 555 Washington off their plate for good.
· Previous coverage of the Transamerica Sidekick


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