City has plans for new park nursery

by Ed Moy

The San Francisco Planning Department has proposed plans for a new nursery facility at the Botanical Gardens in Golden Gate Park.

The project involves demolition of an existing greenhouse along with supporting structures to construct a new 9,830-square-foot nursery facility west of the existing greenhouse. It would range in height from 9 to 28 feet. The new nursery, known as "The Nursery: Center for Sustainable Gardening," would include a greenhouse, shadehouse, support space, outdoor nursery space, green roof and an outdoor learning court.

"It's a fantastic educational tool," said San Francisco Botanical Garden Executive Director Michael McKechnie.

He pointed out the new facility will have a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating. The project is privately funded by the City's non-profit partner, the San Francisco Botanical Garden Society.

"Its very green," McKechnie said. "Its a huge public resource for people to learn to do this. Everything that can be obtained from recycled material we are incorporating into the building. People will want to use (these materials) in their homes."

According to the SF Planning Department, "The Nursery: Center for Sustainable Gardening" would replace the existing propagation facilities, and allow the public to learn about sustainable gardening practices. However, San Francisco Tomorrow, an urban environmental group, has expressed concerns about the nursery project.

According to the group's claims, the proposed new nursery site would impact "native grasses, coyote brush, ceanothus coffeeberry, toyon and a little pond inhabited by the California Red-Legged Frog, which is protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.

According to SF Botanical Society Director Brent Dennis, the facility's location was developed with sensitivity towards all wildlife identified in the immediate area and the design team worked closely with all applicable agencies that govern such concerns, especially relating to protection, mitigation or other construction-phase-related developments.

Nevertheless, in its January newsletter, SF Tomorrow stated that the expansion infringes on natural areas and may violate the Golden Gate Park and Botanical Garden's master plans. When contacted regarding the environmental claims, the Planning Department's Major Environmental Analysis Division responded that it was checking the project's consistency with the Golden Gate Park and Botanical Gardens master plans and that it would be analyzing the environmental document for compatibility with other conditions as well.

In its public notice, the Planning Department also revealed plans for an emergency and vehicular service access point from Martin Luther King Drive (MLK), which would require the widening and expanding of an existing access point. Additionally, the access route would include the creation of one American Disabilities Act (ADA) parking space adjacent to the proposed nursery. The nursery would be accessible to pedestrians via paved pathways from the Botanical Garden.

But SF Tomorrow voiced concern over the proposed widening and expansion of the access point, noting that increased pollution and traffic could result from the plan.

"There have been suggestions by individuals and organizations interested in the project to relocate the facility to other sites within the arboretum, but contrary to their design wishes, the current plans are the best overall when so many program criteria points and design requirements are addressed and integrated into the final design," stated Dennis. "I truly believe that the design team would gladly reduce the width of the required access drive if the fire department and other emergency service requirements were eased or eliminated, but after extensive review sessions and specific discussions upon that topic, the current design is the one that is being approved."

According to the Planning Department's notice to local residents, the entire project site is situated on 2.5 acres (108,600 square feet), which is divided between 2.06 acres (90,000 square feet) for the proposed new nursery facility and with 0.42 acres (18,600 square feet) affected by the demolition and replanting of the existing greenhouse. The proposed project would also require the removal and replanting of 65 trees located within the garden area.

The existing greenhouse would be replaced with native vegetation as an extension of the California Native Garden.

The Planning Department has not issued any environmental documents for the project, and potential environmental effects are still being evaluated. Chelsea Fordham, a member of the Planning Department, stated that construction on the new nursery could begin as soon as late 2009 or early 2010, depending on the department's final evaluation.

Additionally, Fordham said the general public would have a chance to comment on the proposed nursery during the project's hearings at the SF Recreation and Park Commission.

For more information about San Francisco Tomorrow, visit the Web site at For more information about San Francisco Botanical Gardens, visit the Web site at To contact the Planning Department, call the information counter at (415) 558-6377.