CLSA in the San Francisco Chronicle: South SF’s Oyster Point wrong place for housing, biotech industry says
November 24, 2017 | By J.K. Dineen
View original article at the San Francisco Chronicle
Over the past century, the swath of waterfront east of Highway 101 in South San Francisco has transitioned from meat-packing plants to steel mills to lab and office space for the biotech industry, which employs more than 20,000 workers at more than 200 companies.
Now a developer who owns 40 acres of land on Oyster Point is looking to tweak the mix of uses in the area once more by building as many as 1,200 housing units in the biotech stronghold.
But while housing advocates favor the idea, South San Francisco’s biotech players argue that residential development is incompatible with the research and development activity that has made the city of 67,000 residents one of the leading life-science clusters in the world.
The property owner, a group of investors led by the Chinese developer Greenland USA, is proposing to revise the 2011 Oyster Point Plan, which approved 2.25 million square feet of office and research-and-development space on the V-shaped property that wraps around the South San Francisco marina and harbor. The revised proposal, which calls for 4 acres of waterfront open space, would replace the third and fourth phases of that office development with seven residential buildings, decreasing the commercial development by between 500,000 and 750,000 square feet.
Paul Stein of SKS Partners, a real estate development firm that is advising Greenland USA, says the housing will help meet the needs of South San Francisco’s biotech workforce, which is anticipated to grow by 18,000 workers over the next three years.
Stein said the decision to segregate biotech jobs from residential neighborhoods in the Oyster Point Plan “was an ’80’s planning document” that came at a time when the life-science field was in its infancy and there was a lot of misunderstanding about health risks that came with the research and development of drugs.
Since then, housing and biotech have been built close to each other in several places, including in Cambridge, Mass., and San Francisco’s Mission Bay. The new generation of biotech researchers want to work and live in a mixed-use environment with housing, retail and recreation, Stein said.
“The idea was: It’s biotech, people don’t know what it is, let’s throw a fence around it and protect it,” said Stein. “Now, the reality of the world has changed, and we think housing will help enhance the biotech cluster out here.”
Sara Radcliffe, president of the California Life Sciences Association, an industry group that represents many South San Francisco biotech companies, says the industry supports housing but that Oyster Point is not the place for it. Plunking a residential neighborhood down next to around-the-clock research labs will inevitably lead to discord, she said.
Much of South San Francisco’s meteoric rise as a biotech center is attributable to smart planning that has “avoided land-use conflict by not locating residential next to an industrial area,” she said.
“The successful development of the life-science cluster has really been supported and driven by that vision,” she said. “Allowing housing would represent a dramatic turn in the city’s vision for east of 101.”
While South San Francisco city staff has yet to take a position on the housing development, it was city officials who initially asked the developers to consider changing the Oyster Point approvals to include residential. City Manager Mike Futrell said a 2015 study identified two sites west of Highway 101 where housing could be desirable: Oyster Point and an industrial property next to the Caltrain station.
“The study said housing might be feasible,” Futrell said. “We are currently weighing the risks, looking at the macro and the micro. Which is the bigger risk to the biotech sector in the long term? Is it the housing shortage and the adverse impact of long commutes, or is it some perceived disadvantage of having residential too close to biotech?”