The North and East Slopes - Developers' Delight

The southern side of Sign Hill is protected public land while the western side is already built up with multiple developments, including the Elks Lodge and Stonegate neighborhoods. It is the eastern and northern slopes that are vulnerable to development and are of immediate concern and are currently being targeted for preservation. Most people see this beautiful open space, with its natural topography gracing the backside of Sign Hill, and do not realize it privately held and ripe for building. The area is broken into three parcels, one with over 20 acres (click on parcel map to enlarge).

Sign Hill parcel map - click on map to enlargeA decade or so ago, during the last building boom, the owners of the northwest parcels actively sought to develop their land. This is the area across from the former Hillside Elementary School, above Larch Avenue, consisting primarily of parcels 012-351-020 (12.07 acres) and 012-351-030 (13.27 acres). Joe Fernekes, mayor at that time, and councilwoman Karyl Matsumoto led the way to help fellow South Citians retain this area as open space. Even though the formal development plans that were submitted to the Planning Department far exceeded the zoning requirement of one home per acre, South San Francisco spent tens of thousands of dollars in a legal battle to fight the development.

The Bay Area is once again beginning to see another building boom. These Sign Hill properties are an investment for their owners who are waiting for the right time to build. Until these parcels are safely turned over to the public there will be a continued threat of development. Now is the time to save this open space, before building plans are submitted and we are subject to a long EIR (Environmental Impact Review) process, or yet another court battle that wastes precious resources.

The owner of the eastern parcel 012-351-050 (20.43 acres) is actively seeking to develop his land, and a developer working with him has had meetings with South San Francisco city officials, San Bruno Mountain Watch, and Friends of Sign Hill to explain his tentative plans:

  • the likely road into the new development would start at the end of Diamond Avenue and curve around the lower water tank (on parcel 012-351-040)

  • utilizing the water department’s easement, the road would follow the ridge up towards the upper water tank (on parcel 012-351-010)

  • view homes of about 3,500 square feet would follow the ridgeline up, and other homes would be built along the road at the bottom of the property

  • since the parcel is 20 acres, there could be as many as 20 homes built in a small area, since the clustering of homes is allowed

While no formal plans have yet been submitted to the South San Francisco Planning Department (as of August 2012) the fact that this area is once again being surveyed is a wake-up call to the rest of us that open space will gradually disappear without the support of local officials and the local community.

Hummingbird Sage (Salvia spathacea)What makes this property so unique is the fact it is relatively untouched, claimed by some to have never been grazed by cattle. A diverse native plant community still thrives here and supports a natural population of insects, reptiles, butterflies and other wildlife. There are huge fields of Hummingbird Sage (Salvia spathacea) and the lupines are one of the host plants for the endangered Mission Blue butterfly, now the official butterfly of South San Francisco. Coastal Iris (Iris longipetala)Spring time finds a vast array of other beautiful wildflowers blooming including the Checkerbloom (Sidalcea malviflora), Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium bellum), Alkali Parsnip (Lomatium caruifolium), and Coast Iris (Iris longipetala) - a California endemic threatened by habitat loss. Once this natural setting is destroyed, it is gone for good.

As more and more of our local open space turns into an urban cement jungle, this area provides outdoor enjoyment that needs to be saved for generations to come. The sense of well being, spiritual rejuvenation, exploration, fresh air and exercise coupled with the visual beauty of this area are some of the reasons many have joined in to find ways to preserve the northern and eastern slopes.

Content was excerpted and modified from:
by Kamala Silva Wolfe
Peninsula Progress, July 11-18, 2012

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