INGLESIDE, San Francisco — After several months of false starts, a dialysis service provider won approval in December to open in the former CVS Pharmacy space with a catch.
Though the new space is nearly twice as big as the provider’s current location, it can only serve the same number of patients as it does now until neighborhood concerns are addressed, particularly related to traffic.
RAI Care Center, owned by the embattled global conglomerate Fresenius Kidney Care, applied in January 2020 to expand its operation to the 15,312-square-foot ground-floor commercial space next door at Ocean Avenue and Dorado Terrace.
The Planning Commission unanimously granted conditional use authorization on Dec. 17 to allow health services, conditioning an expansion from 24 to 36 treatment chairs on whether a one-year review deems it appropriate.
Before its approval, then-District 7 Supervisor Norman Yee expressed concerns about the project, and neighborhood groups opposed it.
Although dialysis sites are needed for the city’s growing older population, the block isn’t ideal due to physical limitations that prevent vans from loading patients, District 7 Supervisor Norman Yee stated in a letter to the Planning Commission. Three community groups penned letters making cases against the proposal, concerned it would worsen existing issues created by the placement of the current RAI Care Center.
To obtain the authorization, project sponsor Keith Hansell of Savely Healthcare Architects agreed to recommendations from Yee that include creating a Driveway and Loading Operations Plan, “fully” exploring ways to mitigate current van-loading issues on the block, assigning a dedicated traffic attendant and conducting regular neighborhood outreach.
In line with Yee’s recommendations — and in response to community concerns brought forward over early noise pollution and traffic congestion — the commissioners denied the sponsor’s outstanding request for a 5:00 a.m. opening time.
“I’m concerned when we have our hearing in a year, that it’ll be fine — I’ll say, ‘OK, they’ve been really good neighbors,’” said Shirley Lima, a board member of the Ocean Gardens Homeowners Association, which has residents living in units situated atop the storefront. “And my concern is they would stop because they got their permission to expand to 36 chairs, and then our only recourse after they’ve gotten the permission to expand to 36 chairs is that we write a letter to the Planning Commission, and it would be a complaint.”
The hearing followed three others on Oct. 1, Nov. 5 and Dec. 3, where the commission successively granted the sponsor additional time to make its case and address concerns. Many were brought forward from Yee and three neighborhood groups that opposed or took issue with the sponsor’s application.
The Ocean Gardens HOA was among them, with residents in units along Ocean Avenue who hear backing paratransit vans beep as early as 4:30 a.m.
These vans, which typically park along the loading zone in front of the commercial space along Ocean Avenue, bring patients to and from RAI Care Center. But they are also known to create traffic congestion several times a day by blocking the right-most westbound lane along Ocean Avenue, which is further squeezed by a Muni island sitting opposite the loading zone.
Those who don’t notice the blocked westbound lane ahead of time must drive in reverse to back out and enter the other westbound lane on the other side of the Muni island. It sometimes prevents Ocean Gardens HOA residents who drive westbound along the avenue from safely making a right turn to get to their houses, Lima said.
And though the sponsor had previously stated that traffic wouldn’t change due to the space’s dedicated parking garage, the Ocean Gardens HOA stated in its letter of opposition that the garage’s 8-foot, 2-inch height limit would prevent the typical 9-and-a-quarter-foot-tall paratransit van from entering.
Neighbors also took issue with the project sponsor’s community outreach in advance of the application.
“The Planning Department staff said this was a conditional use process, but there was no plan by the Planning Department to organize a neighborhood meeting either online or in person,” said Dan Weaver, executive director of the Ocean Avenue Association. “I organized a meeting by asking the project sponsor to meet with us, and he agreed to meet with us, and that’s how the process started. Otherwise, there would be no opposition to this because the community wouldn’t even know what to oppose.”
Weaver also took issue with the building’s architecture, stating that its covered windows along Ocean Avenue weren’t suitable in a commercial district reliant on foot traffic.
The Ingleside Merchants Association, which the Ingleside Light belongs, outlined its strong opposition to the project in a letter to city officials.
“The proposed 15,000-square-foot expansion of the dialysis center would amplify a number of these longstanding problems,” IMA stated. “It would result in a sharp increase in traffic congestion, create an impediment to K Ingleside light rail service, jeopardize pedestrian safety at the loading zone, and result in a negative impact on parking.”
It also noted that RAI Care Center’s parent company, Fresenius Medical Care, agreed to pay $231 million in corruption charges in 2019.
The project’s approval is in a 30-day appeal period, according to Candace SooHoo, Planning Department deputy communications manager. SooHoo said that since the project received approval, no other community meetings are scheduled, and any meetings in 2021 will be organized by the project sponsor or operator.
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