In San Francisco, an influx of tech workers has driven up the cost of housing and pushed natives to the far reaches of the city. And in the remote waterfront neighbourhood of Hunters Point, an entirely new community is rising on the site of a former nuclear testing facility.
Five Point, a California-based developer and spinoff of Lennar (the nation’s largest housing builder), has set out to transform the retired San Francisco Naval Shipyard into a bustling live-work community with 12,000 new homes and approximately five million square feet of office and commercial space. The project has a price tag to match its hefty ambitions: $US8 billion.
The redevelopment of the neighbourhoods around the shipyard and Candlestick Park, where the San Francisco Giants once played, began in 1999. The project has taken so long, in part, because it involves the cleanup of radioactive contamination. In the 1940s, the shipyard hosted a federal nuclear program that included a secret laboratory where researchers ran tests on the effects of radiation on living organisms. Its closure in 1994 left behind San Francisco’s worst toxic-waste dump.
Now, the “micro-hood” at Hunters Point is starting to take shape, with 234 homes sold (about 83% of the completed units) and another 49 condominiums marketed for sale.
Take a look inside the rebranded San Francisco Shipyard.
The bus ride to The SF Shipyard reminds me of the approach to Walt Disney World when I was a kid. For half a mile back, roads signs welcome you to a real-estate wonderland.
After a roughly 45-minute bus ride from downtown, I arrived in The SF Shipyard.
It was less glamorous than I expected. Wire fences separated swaths of dirt from other plots of dirt. A few residents walked their furry companions along the paved roads.
The city bus drops residents off along the back of the development, where rows of condominiums meet what remains of the retired San Francisco Naval Shipyard.
Hunters Point was a private commercial shipyard from 1869 until the start of World War II, when the Navy bought the property. The military repaired ships and submarines there.
From 1948 to 1969, it hosted a then-secret laboratory that ran tests on ships exposed to nuclear weapons, as well as research on the effects of radiation on living organisms.
Military equipment and ships contaminated by atomic bomb explosions were left at Hunters Point, and toxic substances including petroleum fuels, pesticides, and heavy metals seeped into and polluted the soil at Hunters Point, the San Francisco Chronicle reported in 2015.
After the shipyard closed, it was declared a “superfund” site — a toxic-waste site where the United States Environmental Protection Agency can force parties responsible for the contamination to either perform cleanups or reimburse the government to do the work.
The cleanup of contamination at the shipyard has been ongoing for more than 20 years – and it’s prompted investigations that are steeped in scandal. A 2000 investigation by SF Weekly found “troubling evidence” that the Navy mishandled the radioactive waste it produced. It reportedly dumped huge amounts of contaminated sand into the San Francisco Bay and sprinkled radioactive material on- and-off-base “as if it were fertiliser” to practice cleanup.
Approximately 70 acres of the 500 total acres at Hunters Point have been cleaned up by the Navy, passed inspections by the EPA, and sold from the city of San Francisco to Five Point.
In 2012, several employees of a government-contractor that was paid to clean up the site admitted to faking soil tests – swapping samples from areas known to be highly contaminated with dirt from areas known to be clean. Now all the soil samples are being reviewed, causing delays in the transfer of land from the Navy to the city of San Francisco to the developers.
Still, Lennar and Five Point aren’t waiting for the cleanup to finish before building in the area. Construction is well underway on the parcels that passed inspection.
Kofi Bonner, Five Point’s regional president in the Bay Area, describes the SF Shipyard development as “a new community within an old city.”
It’s an understatement to call the SF Shipyard a housing development. The project will eventually cover nearly 800 acres and span about two miles from the farthest points.
(The roughly 800 acres of neighbourhood will include the SF Shipyard and Candlestick Park.)
The condominium buildings are typical of new urban developments: washed in neutral colours with a familiar industrial flare. Wrought-iron railings wrap around the balconies.
A fully furnished model unit that I toured featured massive windows, appliances from Bosch, hardwood floors, carpeting in the bedrooms, and contemporary finishes.
The rooms were small but affordable by Bay Area standards.
Lennar’s current range of inventory at the shipyard averages $US860 per square foot – nearly $US200 less than the average price per-square-foot in San Francisco, according to Trulia.
One- and two-bedroom units range between “high $US500,000s” and $US1 million — typical of starter homes in San Francisco — while three-bedroom units go up to $US1.5 million.
About 10% of all units will be priced below $US257,000 and reserved for low- and middle-income buyers. Those units “won’t skimp” on any high-end finishes, according to Lennar.
All units come with one or two parking spots, which is especially important because there are few shops, restaurants, or grocery stores within walking distance of the shipyard (yet).
While Lennar is responsible for building the first 1,000 housing units at the shipyard, its spinoff Five Point is tasked with developing the community in and around those new homes.
(Five Point will appoint Lennar or another contractor to build the remaining 11,000 housing units across the SF Shipyard and Candlestick Park in phase two of construction.)
Five Point wants to squeeze an entire shopping district into the plans. A retail corridor will have a movie theatre, a supermarket, and nearly one million square feet of retail space.
City buses will someday provide transportation between downtown and the shipyard. In the meantime, residents can take a free shuttle that runs every 30 minutes during the work day.
The shipyard dips a toe into the “agrihood” — or agricultural neighbourhood — trend with its 350 acres of green space, including a grasslands ecology park, trails, and sports fields.
Ships once pulled in here for repairs.
The dock is the future site of a waterfront promenade where residents will someday enjoy live music, catch a water taxi to San Francisco’s Embarcadero, or just take in the views.
The SF Shipyard might sound dreamy to the millennial homebuyer, but those amenities may be years and years away. The plans are subject to change as the cost of construction rises.
The SF Shipyard is one of the most ambitious real-estate developments that San Francisco has ever seen. The project is expected to cost $US8 billion, and it will finish in the early 2030s.
Source: Office of the Mayor
I walked around parts of the shipyard overlooking the Naval property. It was quiet, except for the soft chatter of a couple touring the property before an appointment.
Lennar and Five Point are selling prospective buyers not on the housing, but on the vision for a neighbourhood that, like an all-inclusive resort, gives residents few reasons to leave.
Build it, they hope, and prospective homebuyers will come.
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