Hayes Valley could gain grocery, but supervisor worries about affordability 

click to enlarge 555 Fulton
  • Courtesy rendering
  • The Planning Commission has approved a chain grocery store for the 555 Fulton project, which will include 139 condos and retail.
A massive Hayes Valley development that could bring a large grocer to the neighborhood in spite of the neighborhood’s ban on corporate chains moved closer to becoming reality last week after the Planning Commission recommended approving the project.

But some observers worry that the type of store likely to move into the development may not be affordable for some area residents.

The block-spanning project, dubbed 555 Fulton, is four blocks west of City Hall and would consist of 139 condos and 29,000 square feet of commercial space. First approved in 2010 when a special-use district was created for the project, 555 Fulton’s developer, Fulton Street Ventures LLC, has now asked for and received from the Planning Commission a series of tweaks — including allowing a major chain grocer.

The site sits in one of two neighborhoods where such stores have been banned, which is the main issue the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association has with the project. The Hayes-Gough Neighborhood Commercial Transit District’s ban on so-called “formula retail” establishments with 11 or more locations was put in place specifically to limit the number of chain stores in the area.

Yet for observers such as District 5 Supervisor London Breed, the important issue is what kind of grocery store will be built, not whether it’s a chain. While Breed herself has supported controls on chain stores, her first worry is that the grocery could be a high-end store such as Whole Foods that would be unaffordable to some of her constituents. She asked the commission to table its approval of the grocery store to get assurances about making it affordable. But she thinks the commission gave the developer power to choose whatever grocer it wants.

“How are we going to hold this developer accountable to doing what they say they are going to do?” she said, noting that the Planning Commission put no language in its approval that binds the developer to working with the community on store selection. Commission President Rodney Fong disagreed with the supervisor and the neighborhood association’s take on the board’s Thursday decision.

“I think our vote was the way the community wished to do it,” said Fong, who agrees that an affordable grocer would best suit the area.

If a chain store is chosen, Fong said, the developer must come back before the commission for a conditional-use permit, so the commission still could have a say about the store on the site.

As for concerns the decision sets a bad precedent, Fong said this exemption will not open the floodgates for more chain stores in the area. It only allows a grocery store, nothing else, he said. He said a chain store may be the only affordable grocer that could be found for the project.

Thursday’s decision included conditions that Planning Department staff work with Breed on bringing an affordable store to the area. Additionally, an informational meeting of the Land Use Committee will be held before the Board of Supervisors ultimately votes on the project.

The approval also eliminated the 3,000-square-foot cap on commercial properties in the area.

The developer could not be reached for comment.

About The Author

Jonah Owen Lamb

Jonah Owen Lamb

Born and raised on a houseboat in Sausalito, Lamb has written for newspapers in New York City, Utah and the San Joaquin Valley. He was most recently an editor at the San Luis Obispo Tribune for nearly three years. He has written for The S.F. Examiner since 2013 and covers criminal justice and planning.
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