The embattled plan for a new North Beach Public Library branch took another step forward Thursday as The City’s Planning Commission unanimously approved an environmental impact report for razing of the current branch, construction of a new building and rearrangement of the Joe DiMaggio Playground.
Since a master-plan for the library and the adjacent playground came to light in 2008, the project has been the subject of passionate argument among residents of North Beach, Telegraph Hill and Russian Hill. The City’s Historic Preservation Commission haphazardly sought to preserve the current 1959 branch building by making it into a historic site in September, but the historic status was overruled by the Board of Supervisors in November.
The argument continued Thursday during nearly two hours of public comment before the Planning Commission. Supporters, donning stickers that said “New Library, Bigger Park,” noted the area’s growing contingent of families and children and overcrowding at the current branch. Opponents bemoaned the loss of what they say is a historic resource, the prospect of increased traffic and the increased height of the library building, which they said would block views from street level.
One opponent, a self-described architectural historian, became so impassioned about the issue that when his three minute time to speak was over, he began beating the podium and shouted at members of the commission, saying they all need to be replaced. Commission President Christina Olague put the meeting in recess during the outburst, and a member of the planning staff said she “pressed the panic button,” that alerts San Francisco sheriff’s deputies. The man left soon after his comments, and the meeting returned to order.
The $12.5 million project would result in demolition of the current library at 2000 Mason Street and the construction of a new branch at 701 Lombard Street, property that is currently held by The City. The new library’s design adds 3,200 square feet over the current location and the playground and park would be expanded by 12,000 square feet. The project’s environmental document is now headed for a decision from the Board of Supervisors.