Court Oks Presidio Lodge Plan

The Presidio Trust won appellate court approval of its plan to build 70,000 square feet of new hotel “lodge” space, in the old parade ground area at the heart of the historic Presidio, despite environmental and historic preservationist objections.

The plan to add 12 small buildings to comprise the lodge, modeled after the historic Graham Street barracks, is offset by the demolition of 94,000 square feet of non-historic outbuildings.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday rejected a challenge to the 2011 expansion plan by the Presidio Historical Association and the Sierra Club. They argued the challenged lodge project would violate the National Environmental Protection Act and the National Historic Preservation Act.

San Francisco’s Presidio has been called the “birthplace of San Francisco.” The original fortification was established by the Spanish in 1776. It transferred to Mexico and in 1848 became part of the United States and a military base. It was closed by the U.S. Army in 1989 and designated as a national park and transferred to the National Park Service in 1994.

In 1996, Congress created the Presidio Trust to manage the park lands, which occupy the northwest rim of San Francisco.  This came with an unusual obligation. The park had to be financially self-sufficient by 2013 so that taxpayers would no longer have to subsidize it.  It has achieved that goal, but along with its efforts have come plans, such as the lodge, to keep the park self-sufficient.

The new lodge is to be adjacent to the Presidio’s Main Parade Ground. It will be a dozen buildings, 30-feet high, connected by open-air porches and styled after historic Civil War-era barracks that originally stood in the area.

The Presidio Trust maintained that the 70,000 square feet of new construction would be offset by demolition of 94,000 square feet of other buildings, so it constituted “replacement” of existing structures.

To reach that total, the Trust included 54,000 square feet of demolition from nearby Crissy Field to accommodate the construction of a new approach to the Golden Gate Bridge and teardowns in the old Letterman Hospital planning area.  The Trust argued it was allowed to “bank” those demolition numbers toward development.

The appeals court disagreed with the “banking” claim by the Trust, but it did find that the plan nonetheless adhered to NEPA and the NHPA. The banking of demolition square footage would permit “unlimited authority” that would be at odds with the major purpose of the trust act, the court held.

The ultimate question is whether the lodge proposal falls within the statutory mandate that new construction be limited to replacement of existing structures of similar size in the existing development areas, the court said. “We conclude that it does,” wrote Judge Margaret McKeown.

Included in the new lodge construction is expansion of the Presidio theater and chapel as well as a new archeology lab.

Case: Presidio Historical Association v. Presidio Trust, No. 13-16554


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