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Neighbors slam failed SF housing project as ‘eyesore’ with human waste, graffiti

A pedestrian prepares to cross the street outside an abandoned gas station on the corner of Oak and Divisadero streets in San Francisco on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022. | Benjamin Fanjoy/The Standard

A former San Francisco car wash and gas station at the center of an affordable housing battle has enraged neighbors after becoming a hotbed of litter, human waste and graffiti.

“It’s a huge neighborhood eyesore,” said Alan Mutter, a Lower Haight resident of 38 years who lives close to the property.

The former Touchless Car Wash and Shell Gas Station at 400 Divisadero St. is surrounded by a temporary fence—but its buildings are covered in graffiti and trash from the site frequently spills into the sidewalk, residents say.

Mutter, who passes by the site regularly to get groceries and go to Golden Gate Park, has filed multiple complaints about the property’s squalid condition.

Further complaints from others have been made via 311 over the past 12 months. They request the removal of graffiti, human waste, a refrigerator and a mattress, public records show.

A fenced off gas station and car wash.
The words “Divisadero Touchless Car Wash” are painted on a building next to an abandoned gas station on the corner of Oak and Divisadero streets in San Francisco on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022. | Benjamin Fanjoy/The Standard

Texas-based Genesis Real Estate Group planned to develop the site into a 184-unit building, the plans were approved by the city in 2019, but financing for the project fell through, said Kyle Smeallie, legislative aide for local Supervisor Dean Preston. 

The Lower Haight site has been at the center of a battle for more city affordable housing dating back several years. An organization called Affordable Divis, led by Dean Preston in 2019 before he was elected supervisor, wanted to have housing built on the site with at least 33% of homes listed as affordable.

Now Preston has set his sights on turning the lot into a 100% affordable housing development, according to Smeallie. In a March letter, Preston’s office expressed interest in the city buying the property from current owners Roy and Patty Shimek.

In June, Mayor London Breed and several supervisors agreed to allocate $112 million for building affordable housing, including $40 million toward buying land to develop with 100% affordable housing.

Yet Smeallie said the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development has dragged its feet on using those funds to acquire sites like the car wash for 100% affordable housing developments.

“We are frustrated that this remains an abandoned gas station,” Smeallie said. “We think that this is the perfect opportunity to build affordable housing.”

The Mayor’s housing office said it is open to buying properties for affordable housing projects, but did not comment specifically on 400 Divisadero St.

While new development plans take shape, Mutter has an idea for how to improve street conditions.

“I think the owners of the property ought to be forced—at their expense—to secure the property and post 24/7 guards to prevent dumping and squatting,” Mutter said.

Patricia Shimek, who co-owns the property with husband Roy, said they have twice previously hired off-duty police to guard the area for unspecified periods of time. 

Shimek says they have never been contacted by the city about selling the property. The couple are in the process of selling it to a nonprofit, but would not identify the potential buyer. Shimek said she and Roy would fully support the site becoming affordable housing.

“We would be very happy, and proud, to see the property that we have worked at for over 60 years become a 100% affordable residential project,” said Shimek.

Genesis Real Estate Group was contacted for comment.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated the Department of Building Inspection had not issued any violations on 400 Divisadero. DBI has in fact not received any complaints regarding the site.