Eastern Neighborhoods Map

The San Francisco Planning Department is offering zoning “amnesty” to 7,000 property owners that aren’t currently compliant within the recently rezoned Eastern Neighborhoods.

Thus far, one landlord has applied for amnesty. Fred Snyder of the David Allen Trust is seeking to legalize 660-680 Alabama St., a 50,000-square-foot former factory that is home to the computer animation firm Wild Brain. The building was one of approximately 1,000 lots designated “M” under the previous zoning — which allowed a mixture of industrial, housing, office and retail — but are now restricted to industrial activities that fall under the industrial umbrella called “production, distribution, and repair.”

Those wishing to take advantage of the amnesty must pay a fee of $535 and $10.50 for each square foot being legitimized. Snyder said the $400,000 fee is a lot to pay in a down economy, but he is eager to bring his property into compliance as soon as possible. “They created a way we could solve this problem by paying some money. We want to get it done and move forward,” he said.

Active enforcement of the new zoning laws which were approved last November and went into effect this past January won’t begin for another three years (January 2011).

UPATE: A plugged-in reader adds (and schools us on zoning):

The office of Wild Brain wasn’t legitimate under either the old or the new zoning. Previously the north side of 18th between Hampshire and York, where their office is located, was zoned M-1, light industrial. Now it’s zoned M-2, which is PDR. An office is not a conforming use in an M-1 or M-2 zone.

Comments from Plugged-In Readers

  1. Posted by flaneur

    I don’t understand. If what the building owners did was legal at the time they did it, can the city really make it something for which a fine needs to be paid?

  2. Posted by flaneur

    In light of this precedent, my advice to city officials in charge of the budget: Rezone downtown to residential, Pacific Heights to commercial, and start collecting the “amnesty” fees.

  3. Posted by Jeffrey W. Baker

    This is what you get when you get your public planning news from the San Francisco Business Times. The old “M” doesn’t allow retail generally, or housing. The office of Wild Brain wasn’t legitimate under either the old or the new zoning. Previously the north side of 18th between Hampshire and York, where their office is located, was zoned M-1, light industrial. Now it’s zoned M-2, which is PDR. An office is not a conforming use in an M-1 or M-2 zone.
    Uses envisioned in the planning code for M-1 are, for example, film production, kill of live poultry, killing of fish for retail sale, sausage making for wholesale, salvage or recycling, and R&D of chemicals and explosives.

  4. Posted by Brahma (incensed renter)

    Uses envisioned in the planning code for M-1 are, for example, film production, kill of live poultry, killing of fish for retail sale, sausage making for wholesale, salvage or recycling, and R&D of chemicals and explosives.

    Someday I’m going to have to find out what the canonical undergraduate textbook in zoning is for college city planning majors and spend a summer reading it. I really don’t get how some of these distinctions are drawn.
    I really don’t see much difference between what happens in an office that’s doing film production and one that’s doing computer animation. Heck, the computer animation is probably being done for a film production!

  5. Posted by Jeffrey W. Baker

    “Film production” under the planning code is the manufacture of rolls of celluloid film for the taking of photographs. “Film production” is not the editing and composition of film for making movies.

  6. Posted by Jeffrey W. Baker

    Expanding on the planning code generally, the point of the light industrial M-1 zone is that trucks should be coming and going, and customers should be visiting ground-floor entrances. An office that doesn’t serve the public generally (as an animation studio does not) and doesn’t produce any goods that need to be transported to market, doesn’t fit in an M-1 on the ground floor. However these types of offices are allowed if they are entirely on higher floors.
    The fundamentals of urban planning are to make sure that uses conform to surrounding uses and don’t overly burden their neighbors. When you put an office in an M-1 you create a parking demand for cars that don’t move all day long, which crowds the curb spaces needed for deliveries and pick-ups at the legitimate light industries, and makes it hard for the industrial customers to park. Also M-1 zones are generally not served by mass transit, making them even less suitable for office developments.
    In other words, these guys should feel very lucky that the city only wants $400k to legitimize a factory space that has been unlawfully occupied by a nonconforming office for more than 15 years.

  7. Posted by cy

    This is awesome. I’m planning on making a movie about killing chickens, making chicken apple sausage, and then researching how to turn the sausages into nuclearized weaponry for targeted assassinations of world leaders during brunch. Potrero will be perfect for me to house my new business.

  8. Posted by Miles

    Hmm, my understanding of multimedia uses occupying industrial buildings conflicts with Mr. Baker’s opinion (sorry, I can’t reveal my profession occupation here for liability reasons). My understanding was that during the dot com era, multimedia uses were commonly allowed to occupy warehouse spaces under a loose/modern interpretation of the M-1 and SOMA industrial zoning guidelines. Multimedia companies were seen as a major economic engine at the time and not only included a lot of dot com/internet companies, but also film, animation and graphic companies. Anyway – point being, multimedia companies were not considered to be office occupancies under the zoning and thus allowed to occupy space in industrial zones. Also, every time I’ve seen a company that large occupy a space that is a grey area under the zoning, the company will get a letter stating their occupancy is OK from the planning commission – it would be foolish to invest in so much tenant improvements to be illegally occupying a space.

  9. Posted by Jake

    Actually offices/wild brain are permitted in M1… in fact virtually everything is permitted in m1 which was part of the reason the city rezoned the area to begin with. Snyder might not have taken out the proper use-permit, but offices are definitely allowed.
    See article 219 offices: http://www.municode.com/Resources/gateway.asp?pid=14139&sid=5

  10. Posted by Jeffrey W. Baker

    Miles I think you’ll find that the media people like Macromedia and Sega had conditional use permits. I believe that’s the entire point of the amnesty: to get permits for unpermitted conditional uses.

  11. Posted by Miles

    Also, on a separate note, this seems to be a major departure for the planning department. Typically, uses which were legal under the zoning code at the time they were originally occupied with that use are allowed to continue with their non-conforming use. The zoning code can change pretty dramatically, so what is allowed at one time can often be an unpermitted use at a later time. This legislation indicates that the city is going to crack down on non-conforming uses if they don’t pay the shake down fee of $10 per square foot in this area. Seems like it would be a good deal for occupancies that are there illegally in the first place, but a screw job for non-conforming occupancies which in the past had been legally allowed to continue their past non-conforming use.

  12. Posted by Jeffrey W. Baker

    How is it a screw-job? People operating without permits pre-eastern nabes can still try to just skate by and hope the planning department or the building inspector never notices or cares.
    Part of the problem for this Wild Brains space is undoubtedly that it’s huge (50,000 square feet) and at the time it was converted from industrial use (or abandonment) would have had to compete for permits under the 950,000 sq ft annual office construction and conversion limit (321(a) and 320(g)(1)).

  13. Posted by Miles

    Thanks for the note Jeffrey, but if Sega and Macromedia got conditional use permits, then their occupancy is a permitted use that stays in place as long as they keep occupying the space. Conditional uses are allowed uses in all zoning areas, you just have to get conditional use approval for them upon a new occupancy. Now if these uses were specifically not allowed and they got a variance to occupy the space, that would be different, but a conditional use is basically a legal use which just requires some additional oversight from the planning department.
    So I don’t get it – is this legislation requiring a fee for all permitted conditional uses or is this legislation trying to just target entirely unpermitted uses? It actually seems like it is a re-zoning fee as it seems that uses which were allowed in the zoning before it changed to the Eastern Neighborhood Plan but are not allowed now have to pay a fee – basically a re-zoning fee. I have never heard of such a re-zoning fee before in SF or any other Bay Area city I have worked in.

  14. Posted by Jeffrey W. Baker

    Check the amnesty notice again. It specifically applies only to uses which could have been permitted under the old regime, but for some reason never got their permits.

  15. Posted by Miles

    Thanks Jeffrey, but I’ll have to get a hold of someone at planning to flesh this out a bit more as the only thing made public now is pretty vague in the SF Bus Times article. Time to get back to paid work.

  16. Posted by Chris

    Wild Brain, for the record makes animation, and in it’s day on 18th street “made” traditional animation/art/cels and so was within the “permitted” use. “Production” is all about a thing you can hold in your hand. They have been great in the neighborhood, and were def not just “offices”.

  17. Posted by Crazy Codes

    Oh don’t get me started on the stupidity of this latest fiasco from our furry friends at planning. Fred Snyder manages a family trust that owns several blocks literally in the area. Including one of the 1st live work developments, Mission Laundry, the Wild Brain et al, and others. He’s a sweet old hippie who got swept up in the carnal carnival that was the Mission rezoning debacle. The block adjacent to the Wild brain block consists of 3 large homes, 8 live work condo’s, an auto repair facility, an industrial design house, a clothing company HQ, one of the oldest artists live work spaces in the area (developing environments) with a few dozen people living there, cabinet makers, a theater, a catering events company… and more. It is probably the most diverse set of uses of any block in the city. Under the new zoning stupidity, the whole block is now zoned industrial, with the only exception being the 8 live work condos. Everything else can only continue to exist in a perpetual state of conditional use. Its stupid beyond the pale, as is the entire zoning scheme in the area. The amount of dirty politics and back room dealing that went into this fiasco is worthy of a novel — and a lawsuit.

  18. Posted by suzyq

    does anyone have the key to what all the different colors on the map mean and what the grey areas are zoned?

  19. Posted by Anna

    That’s not a zoning map. The different colors look like neighborhood boundaries.

  20. Posted by Another appraiser

    Actually there are multiple permits for 660 Alabama and they show building uses of office, warehouse and sound studio, consistent with the use type. Nearly ALL uses were permitted in the M-1 and M-2 zoning districts, which were the most flexible zoning districts in SF. In the North Mission, the use everyone got all excited about was residential, as it was rapidly displacing industrial use. (Why anyone would want to live next to a production space or contractor yard is beyond me.) The zoning for this parcel (Block 4020 Lot 020) is shown as UMU and not PDR. From the planning dept web site: The stated purpose of UMU: Transition formerly industrial zones into mixed use/mixed income districts, while preserving PDR uses. Permitted uses: PDR, mixed-income housing, small office, neighborhood-scale retail, small to medium institutions. Other: PDR space no longer required as part of residential projects; PDR removal fee under consideration. Mixed-income requirements apply to all residential projects.

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