March 25, 2015

This Week At The Planning Commission: Tom & Rai Will Move Into Rebuilt Bliss Bar

A look at Noe Valley projects in front of the Planning Commission this week. Information is provided by the Planning Commission, and taken from its published agenda. All hearings are on Thursday at 1:30pm, Room 400 in City Hall.

March 26, 2015

4022 – 4026 24th STREET
- north side of the street between Castro and Noe Streets; Lot 010 in Assessor’s Block 3656 - Request for Conditional Use Authorization, pursuant to Planning Code Sections 728.21, 728.41, and 303 to construct an addition at the rear of the building that would add two dwellings and expand the existing ground floor commercial space beyond the 2,499 gross square-foot use size limitation for the District and establish a restaurant with a type 47 ABC license (d.b.a. Tom Rai) that would retain the existing place of entertainment use but amend the conditions of approval contained in Motion 8778 that pertain to the use to expand the hours and permit amplified entertainment. The project includes remodeling the storefront and adding a roof deck with two stair penthouses for access. The project also requires a parking reduction pursuant to Section 161 of the Code and a rear yard variance pursuant to Section 134 of the Code for the ground floor portion that extends into the required rear yard. The project site is located within the 24th Street/ Noe Valley Neighborhood Commercial District and 40-X Height and Bulk Districts. This action constitutes the Approval Action for the project for purposes of CEQA, pursuant to Section 31.04(h) of the San Francisco Administrative Code.

Preliminary Recommendation: Approve with Conditions
In addition:
Request for a Variance pursuant to Section 134 of the Planning Code to construct a three-story addition at the rear of a mixed-use building. The proposed addition would extend the depth of the building to the rear property line at the ground floor and add two dwelling units to the property. The project also requires a parking reduction pursuant to Section 161 of the Code. The project site is located within the 24th Street/ Noe Valley Neighborhood Commercial District and 40-X Height and Bulk Districts.
To summarize: The developer wants to increase dwelling units from two to four, not add parking, build to the rear property line and add a roof deck at the 2nd floor (at the property line) and increase the size of the ground level restaurant. The restaurant will operate until 2am and feature live (amplified) music.

Neighbors aren't please and have demanded an acoustician (among other things) to reduce noise. The developer is working with an acoustician and that, combined with more technical elements, seems to have satisfied planning staff. Expect approval because:
  • The project would not lead to an over concentration of eating and drinking establishments within the district.
  • The project promotes a locally-owned business and contributes to the viability of the overall 24th Street – Noe Valley NCD.
  • The project would not displace an existing retail tenant providing convenience goods and services to the neighborhood, and would decrease the number of bars in the district.
  • The project would create two additional housing units within an established neighborhood that is readily accessible by transit. The new dwellings are smaller, thereby more affordable, yet maintain multiple bedrooms in each unit.
  • The project would implement the recommendations of the sound engineering consultant to ensure that no sound from the commercial use is audible from outside the restaurant.
  • The project meets all applicable requirements of the Planning Code. The project is desirable for, and compatible with the surrounding neighborhood.
  • The business is not a Formula Retail use and would serve the immediate neighborhood.
No letters of opposition (or support) are included in the packet, which combined with the above means the Planning Commission is likely to take staff's recommendation and approve the project.

For those new to the neighborhood, a fire destroyed Bliss Bar and rendered the apartments inhabitable in 2013.

As for the new restaurant called Tom & Rai? We can't find any info beyond the name. How 'bout you?

Update (3/29): Public comment against the project from Elizabeth St homeowners, and in favor from 24th St residents and businesses. However those in favor (by petition) would like restricted construction hours (9-5, M-F), reduced operating hours, restricted live music and other concerns. A major issue also seemed to be a lack of landscaping on the roof over the restaurant and privacy issues regarding the hot tub spa next door - both of which the project sponsor agreed to mitigate.

Given the number of variances, change of use, hours and dwelling units without parking a motion was suggested to approve the project, but to slow the rollout of changes. But in the end the motion was continued to a date after project sponsors can meet with neighbors to discuss changes suggested by the Planning Commission. Public comments remain open, and the hearing will reconvene on April 23, 2015.

Update (4/3): The April issue of the Noe Valley Voice reports that Tom & Rai is named after the wife-and-husband team of Rai and Tom Hutinghichinda (which oddly turned up nothing on Google except the NVV story). They hope to open a full-service restaurant/bar serving "an Asian, noodle-based menu, with the noodles made on the premises in the front window for all to see." Planning still has to approve, and then maybe they can apply for permits with ABC - no info yet. Stay tuned.

Update (4/24): The hearing reconvened on 4/23 with few new details. Project sponsor met with neighbors on 4/4 and no compromise was reached. They met with neighbors again on 4/14, this time at the Planning offices, and they were able to agree on restricted construction times, no opposition to lack of parking and other minor issues. Neighbors remained opposed to amplified music, late hours and especially the requested rear yard variance.

One neighbor, representing countless others, reiterated opposition at yesterday's hearing and said she had gathered signatures of 100 more people who are against the project as opposed. She also stated that she believes the Noe Valley Merchants Association was lied to and that's why it supports the project. 18 more people spoke against, most decrying loss of the rear yard and its mature fruit trees. The overwhelming sentiment from those against is that Noe Valley NCD and Motion 8778 exist to keep Noe Valley "family friendly and community oriented." This project requires too many variances to avoid 8778.

Commissioners agreed. Specifically, the issue of the rear yard variance was a sticking point. As proposed the Zoning Administrator said he would deny the variance. But... there's wiggle room. If the Project Sponsor can redesign the amount of open space to match or exceed what is lost by excavating the rear yard than there's no need for a variance - they can apply for a "yard modification" (that would still need a hearing).

Commissioners and the ZA were unimpressed with the lack of new ideas brought to this second hearing, and expressed reluctance to approve with modifications. A motion was put forward to continue the hearing to June 11. This was also met with skepticism because the project is potentially changing so much it will require a new application. Or as Commissioner Johnson said, there are "too many moving pieces" to vote today.

In the end, Commissioners agreed to continue as long as specific goals are met: rethink the rear yard, and strongly consider downsizing the project to conform with the NCD and Motion 8778. Next hearing is June 11, 2015.

Call it a victory for Elizabeth St neighbors, and perhaps for the fruit trees.

Video of the hearing is here.

Update (6/27): Project approved 6-0 with modifications.

[Planning: 4022–4026 24th St]


Jan Tryfy said...

I sure hope they have quesadillas.

Anonymous said...

"No letters of opposition (or support) are included in the packet, which combined with the above means the Planning Commission is likely to take staff's recommendation and approve the project."

Apparently there was opposition at the planning commission's meeting Mar 26 which left some commissioners uneasy after they heard complaints from the neighbors behind the project on Elizabeth St and the building inspector in charge of the project has been emailed by neighbors also that they are unhappy with the hours, the variance to build all the way to the back property line and noise issues. So I wouldn't assume yet that it is a done deal and without some compromise.

Anonymous said...

As I live on Elizabeth Street, I am directly affected by whatever establishment will eventually replace the Bliss Bar. Some of the information above needs to be corrected. I was at the Planning Commission meeting, and at the meeting between the project sponsor and the owner on one hand, and concerned neighbors on the other. In spite of the efforts of the affected neighbors on Elizabeth, Noe and 24th Streets, no compromise was reached, as the owner and project sponsor were unwilling to alter their proposed plan in any way. Their only suggestion was for them to acquire the requested CUP (with the addition of amplified entertainment from 6 am to 2 am) and see if it "bothers" the neighbors.--other than to suggest that the neighbors wait to see. In particular they were unwilling to compromise on their request to obliterate all of the green space or limit the amplified entertainment in way.

Not mentioned in this blog is the fact that the owners want to increase the commercial space from 1906 sqft to 2696 sqft, an area which exceeds the allowable square footage for Noe Valley. Of great concern to the neighbors is that a forty percent increase in area equates to a vastly larger customer capacity.

Information on the owners can be found on the internet, but you have to spell the name right. A property records search shows it has belonged to the Hutachinda Revocable Trust since 2001. (not a typo, I mean for thirteen years) Tom and Rai then come up as Pornchai and Suchitra Hutachinda. Further research revealed that they own The Cafe at Castro and Market, which was once a Thai Restaurant. Further, they tried, unsuccessfully, for several years to get approval for a three story night club, including a rooftop space, at 280 7th Street. In this light, concerns on neighbors' part about noise in the neighborhood, including street noise by exiting patrons, are understandable.

Anonymous said...

Nice find /reporting by the Noe Valley Voice in the above.

Anonymous said...

I live on Elizabeth and would LOVE to have a vibrant business open late in the old Bliss space. How can I get in touch and write a letter of support?