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Politics & Policy

Sunset skyscraper: San Francisco developers are back with ‘kind of nuts’ plan

An early rendering depicts plans for a 50-story skyscraper project in the sleepy Outer Sunset neighborhood. | Courtesy Solomon Cordwell Buenz

The infamous Sunset skyscraper—an amorphous plan for a 50-story apartment tower just blocks away from San Francisco’s Ocean Beach, first revealed in April and rejected multiple times by the city—is back.  

Developers Raelynn and John Hickey submitted a new application for the project Aug. 25, on the heels of lawsuits they filed against the city Aug. 17. The suits allege San Francisco’s Planning Department misinterpreted state law in rejecting the project and also created stricter standards for height and bulk in direct response to their application. 

The new application seeks approval for the project under a new law, AB 2011, which took effect last month. Sponsored by East Bay Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, it allows for by-right approval of mixed-income housing on commercial parcels, so long as certain frontage, labor and environmental criteria are met. 

“We like that developers are noticing AB 2011, but it’s unlikely that this is an exemplary project,” a spokesperson for Wicks wrote in an email. “At the very least, maybe the publicity will alert more folks to AB 2011 and its potential to cut red tape.”

Detail from earlier plans for 2700 Sloat project, showing multiple towers in the project base. | Source: Courtesy SF Planning Department

The Hickeys’ new application also includes new changes to the building plans. In an effort to satisfy the density bonus law’s requirements, the previous application featured four narrow towers attached together, creating the appearance of a single tower. The new plan reportedly now changes the project’s base to six narrow attached towers.

A spokesperson for the Planning Department told The Standard that they consider the submission to be “incomplete and still under review.”

In a long X thread analyzing the new application, housing activist Robert Fruchtman characterizes them as “combative,” “incompetent,” and “kind of nuts.” 

“They’ve submitted — simultaneously along with their lawsuits — an application for the project to be considered under AB 2011. They’re essentially proposing that the project now be considered under an alternate path entirely, coming in with a new project, if you will, that enjoys the ministerial approval, and the density bonuses afforded under that act,” Planning Department spokesperson Dan Sider wrote in an email.

The new application and litigation come after San Francisco’s Board of Appeals rejected developers’ claims on July 27. The project has generated intense controversy, with more than 3,600 residents signing an online petition opposing it

One of the developers, John Hickey, who is said to have taken the lead in discussions with the city, submitted a similarly grandiose proposal for three 650-foot apartment towers at India Basin in San Francisco’s Bayview District in 2004. 

At the time, he was under indictment for a $20 million fraud case where he had bilked over 700 investors who believed they were buying interest in North Bay real estate. Hickey served over six years in federal prison over the case.