San Francisco's North Beach Library closer to turning page on renovation 

After three years of contentious spats with neighbors and legislative snarls, the renovation of the North Beach Branch Library is one final vote away from approval.

The environmental review for the $12.5 million plan to level the existing structure, build a new one and remodel the surrounding play area was approved unanimously at three governmental meetings in the past week. Now it is up to the Board of Supervisors to vote in June on whether to close to vehicle traffic about 200 feet of Mason Street as part of the project.

The closure would connect two plots of land for pedestrians, a triangular parking lot at 701 Lombard St. that will transform into the new two-story library and the Joe DiMaggio Playground.

It also will make way for an additional 12,000 square feet of open space in an area that is lacking parkland.

“It has been designed in such a way that makes the park more accessible,” Recreation and Park Department General Manager Phil Ginsburg said.

The closure has created debate in the past because the new branch and playground could attract more cars and cause more traffic in an already-busy intersection. However, the environmental review found that it will not be a problem, based on a trial closure of the street in summer 2009.

Board President David Chiu, with Mayor Ed Lee, authored a resolution that finalizes the closure and transfers management of the property from the Department of Public Works to Rec and Park.

Mayoral candidate Chiu said at a land use committee meeting Monday, before the unanimous vote to approve the closure, that he wants to move the project forward as quickly as possible.

“We know that in San Francisco we are losing our families. We have to do everything we can to reverse that trend,” he said.

Last year, preservationists tried to stop the demolition of the existing branch by designating it as a local landmark because of its architectural value. There were debates about whether the maneuver was politically motivated or driven by neighbors unhappy with the construction, but in the end supervisors voted to quash the proposal anyway.

And now, anyone opposed still has 30 days to appeal the Planning, Library and Recreation and Park commissions’ unanimous votes in the past week to approve the environmental review.

If no one appeals and the board votes in June to approve the closure of Mason Street between Lombard Street and Columbus Avenue, then construction for the project would begin as soon as possible, officials said.

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Kamala Kelkar

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