“We aren’t creating a new neighborhood — we are becoming part of a well-established community,” said Carrie Newbery, vice president of customer experience with Tri Pointe Homes. “It is hard to tell where the existing homes end and Lofton begins.”
What is not obvious from the street is that the 56-unit Lofton at Portola development takes up most of the block, with an additional three buildings set back mid-block on Yale Street. The 86,000-square-foot parcel — a bit less than 2 acres — was previously part of the campus of Cornerstone Academy, a Christian school just to the south of the new housing.
The modest influx of housing comes as the Portola — known as the Garden District for its history as a home to flower growers — has become increasingly expensive, with median home prices rising 9% over the last year to over $1.3 million. And there is little inventory available — besides the new Lofton development, there are just two houses currently on the market, one for $1.5 million and one for $1.7 million. So far, 18 of the Lofton homes are in contract, with pricing ranging from $1.3 million to $1.8 million.
Meanwhile, the neighborhood has not seen the sort of development activity that has started to produce more housing in the adjacent Excelsior neighborhood, where about 600 units are under construction. The one recent project built in the Portola was a disaster — a development at 2869-2899 San Bruno Ave. was approved for 10 apartments but became the focus of a city attorney investigation after the developer illegally added an additional 20 apartments. The developer in that case was fined $1.2 million for dozens of code violations and is now in negotiations with the city about how to bring the project into compliance.
The other proposed development in the neighborhood is on the site of the dilapidated wooden greenhouses at 770 Woolsey St. That 2.2-acre site has been approved for 62 units, but a neighborhood nonprofit is currently raising money to purchase the property, rebuild the historic greenhouses and turn the property into an urban agricultural center.
Realtor Kevin Birmingham said homes in the Portola are increasingly being snapped up by families who are priced out of Bernal Heights. The Cambridge Street homes should sell quickly, he said.
“There is no inventory, and there is a strong market for new construction,” he said. “These sleepy little neighborhoods like Westwood Park and the Portola are no longer overlooked.”
Birmingham recently listed a house at 485 Colon Ave. in Westwood Highlands, a residential enclave north of Monterey Boulevard. The house was listed at $2.49 million and sold for $3.6 million. The all-cash deal closed in seven days.
“We had six offers between $3.2 million and $3.3 million,” said Birmingham. “There is so much money in San Francisco right now and so many buyers.”
If successful, the Cambridge Street project could spark other developers to start looking for sites, including the four gas stations on San Bruno Avenue, a bustling strip of dim sum restaurants, ramen joints, banh mi spots, produce markets and pupusa eateries, according to Todd David, executive director of the Housing Action Coalition.
“It’s a vibrant commercial corridor and an outstanding location for multifamily housing,” said David. “Clearly it’s a neighborhood people want to live in. We want to ensure that we are providing housing options for new residents; otherwise we will see increasing displacement pressures on the existing community.”
The Portola — the neighborhood is ringed by the Bayshore Freeway section of Highway 101 to the east, Interstate 280 to the north, and McLaren Park to the west and part of the south — is one of the city’s most diverse, with a population that is 55% Asian and 26% Latino.
The pandemic has been a mixed bag for San Bruno Avenue, which runs through the district along Highway 101, according to Alex Hobbs, a board member of the Portola Neighborhood Association. Some of the produce markets and restaurants have thrived as more residents were working from home and spending more locally. But two of San Bruno’s celebrated newer businesses — FDR Brewery and Churn Urban Creamery — did not survive.
While the added housing density is welcome, Hobbs said, the units may be too far up the hills to have much impact on San Bruno’s merchants.
“What we really need is more housing on San Bruno,” he said. “I’d be in favor of upzoning it if that is what it would take.”
Buyers Justin Bishop and Jason Owyong were attracted to Lofton at Portola for its mix of urban amenities and open space. The couple, who work in Mountain View, had lived in a SoMa high-rise before buying a condo in a 74-unit building in Belmont. They missed the city but wanted a place for their dogs, Ollie and Louie. They like being a few blocks from McLaren Park, and as a native of Singapore, Owyong was attracted to San Bruno’s Asian restaurants and grocery stores.
“We like the vibe on San Bruno,” said Bishop.
Jeff Frankel, division president of Tri Pointe Homes Bay Area, said he would continue to look for sites in the Portola. “It is really tough to find infill opportunities the size of Lofton in established neighborhoods.”
J.K. Dineen is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @sfjkdineen