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Plan for San Francisco housing development could center around Stonestown Galleria

A San Francisco mall could be transformed into a housing-commercial development
A San Francisco mall could be transformed into a housing-commercial development 03:33

San Francisco appears headed for its first mega-project housing development since the pandemic.

The Stonestown Galleria may soon be home for thousands of new residents as officials look to turn shopping malls into living spaces.

While a lot of shopping malls are struggling, Stonestown Galleria in San Francisco is doing well. But there are those who think it could do even better.

"There's a number of malls and shopping centers and shopping centers in the Bay Area that are currently contemplated to be transformed into new neighborhoods," said Daniel Saver, a regional government planning director. "There's a national trend right now to re-imagine old shopping malls, many of which often have a lot of surface parking." 

It's the parking lots surrounding Stonestown that have officials so interested. The city has been in talks with the owner to turn many of the spaces to park into places to live.

Brookfield Properties has a plan to develop 3,500 housing units surrounding the existing mall, including six acres of parks, outdoor dining, recreation space and a plaza for a local farmer's market. Much of the car traffic would be sent to underground parking garages.

The idea is to turn the shopping mall into a small, walkable, town center, with residents giving the area more life at night.

"We can create really vibrant spaces that have different feelings during the daytime and the evening," said Saver. "But during the course of the whole day, they're actually widely used by a variety of different people." 

Ironically, Stonestown was ahead of its time. When it opened in 1952, it actually offered high-density housing.

And old newspaper ad lists a three-bedroom, two-bath apartment going for $159 a month. Later, indoor malls became regional shopping destinations with customers arriving in cars.

And even though much of the rear parking lot now sits empty, some current customers don't want to see the surface parking go away.

"Please don't take the parking away. It's silly," said shopper Angela Fonda, who lives near Stonestown. "It's just, you know, one more way to get revenue for the city. All sorts of crazy ideas going on right now. I just think it's fine the way it is."

But a man named Yoram didn't think so. He rode his bike to the mall, and while he agreed convenient parking was nice, he supports the plan.

"But housing is more important," he said, "because homelessness is a terrific problem. And housing is unaffordable."  

College student Michael Brown doesn't think it will help with that. Though 20 percent of the units would be affordable, Brown thought all that new "vibrancy" would simply make the pre-existing housing in the area more expensive.

"It would drive up pricing around apartments, for sure, much more than it is already costing," he said. "We still see that low-income people can't afford to stay in the SF Bay Area. I don't think adding more is going to solve our current issue."

San Francisco has been closely involved with the plan for Stonestown, and officials even requested that 600 more units be added to the original project.  

Final approval rests with the Board of Supervisors. There are no easy answers to what ails the housing market. But with cities desperately looking for spaces to build more homes, those parking lots are looking more and more like an opportunity.

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