The Twin Peaks house at 125 Crown Terrace which partially collapsed last night and slid down the hill toward Graystone Terrace is owned by Mel Murphy, the prominent and well-connected local developer who once served as president of San Francisco’s Building Inspection Commission.

Having been denied a demolition permit to raze the existing 854-square foot home on the parcel and build a new 4,019 square foot home in its place, Murphy applied for a permit to simply “remodel” the Twin Peaks house into a 5,139 square foot home instead.

The permit to “remodel” 125 Crown Terrace was approved by the City. And with the foundation for the 5,000 square foot “remodel” having been poured, it’s the original 854-square foot structure for which demolition was denied that has collapsed.


58 thoughts on “Collapsed Home Was Being “Remodeled” By Prominent Developer”
  1. Exactly..re above. But what POSSIBLE reason is there to deny a demo permit on such a small and seemingly indistinguished house? We are a town that is full of “renovations” that are for all intents and purposes tear downs. Could someone who understands what passes as “process” explain why? Is it only about “preserving neighborhood character?”

  2. This whole thing smacks of the corruption that goes on with the SF DBI..and a lot of their cronies.
    And now Murphy will get to do what he PREFERRED to do, without having to be bothered by the permit process.

  3. Obesity culture in houses. Ugh. 860 sq feet to over 5K?
    I’m glad I’m not a neighbor. I would hate some developer to squat like that on my block. UGH.

  4. May be true, Lark, but if you googlemap it, you’ll see that it would be barely noticed. It’s next door to those very large deco-ish apartment buildings on Crown Terrace/Raccoon. And interesting that the proposed “new” was actually a bit smaller than the proposed “remodel”…I presume it was a more efficient structure. So I’m still confused why our code would mandate keeping the “original”.

  5. pushing a house over the edge sounds like a good way to demolish and start over as planned. city has to approve now:)

  6. Curmudgeon, the planning department views the existing 800+ sq foot house as affordable housing stock and a substantial remodel will effectively remove it from said stock.

  7. But they approved a substantial remodel so it was going to be removed from the “affordable housing stock”, so that can’t be the reason they denied the demolish permit. Just crazy that they would not approve the demo permit.

  8. Just tried to look up 125 Crown Terrace on the DBI website to see the permit history timeline and they said there was nothing at that address. (Maybe that fell down the hill too).
    Maybe Mel Murphy thought if he applied for a demo he would have a fight so he took what he thought would be the the path of least resistance only to meet some resistance about the “remodel”.
    It is a good thing no one was hurt.

  9. Right of first refusal would make a lot more sense than the current permitting process. If someone cares enough about the neighborhood character, the price point or the architectural fit, they have a month to buy the property from you at a small markup to market prices. Otherwise, it’s your property.

  10. Well done, Mr. Developer, well done! Not only did you get the wreck out of the way, you created a brilliant piece of satire showing the stupidity of the planning process. This will go down in San Francisco lore – and a new method of demolishing an unwanted structure may become standard.
    I can imagine someone cutting a few support columns, attaching a rope down to a truck on the street below, and yanking. Certainly there was some risk that adjacent buildings would be damaged, but it looks like it worked perfectly.

  11. Thank you Somabound. The whole tortured history is laid out there.
    A few years ago a Molinari did the same thing over in North Beach/Russian Hill.
    The live link above “approved by the City” takes you to an interesting March article from SF Weekly.
    This is fascinating and tragic commentary on regulation all at once.

  12. Maybe they’ll force him to pull it back upright, and reconstruct any of the damage. Wouldn’t surprise me…

  13. “Oh gee – the house that SF won’t let us demolish just fell down the hill”
    what a terrible tragedy ……What coincidence……
    I mean what a disaster….
    I mean…oh well…guess we’ll have to build a 3500 Sq foot house now….

  14. They won’t force Murphy to do a damn thing.
    He’s in the pocket of many of the DBI officials, where this type of corruption and “favors” goes on a lot.

  15. Anyone remember the story from a few years ago? There was a dude was a DIY’er who tried to replace the foundation by himself. The house is in the south side of the city. He did it without permit. And oops, it has slided down hill.
    Looks like profession developer isn’t much better. Hope no one get hurt.

  16. 22 comments and not a single one bemoaning the loss of this architectural treasure? I wonder why the demo permit was denied in the first place.

  17. Is this a new variant of Murphy’s Law? If something can go wrong, it will, and it is better than going right. 🙂

  18. I think if you want the right to trash your neighborhood through unregulated demolitions there is a state for you. Texas. Scram. You don’t belong here.
    And it is also kind of offensive (but so typical for libertarian types) that people are joking about this as a way to demolish in a way that gets around demolition regulation. CLUE: this is an extreme hazard. Someone could have been killed. It’s no different than burning down your property through owner arson. If he tried this in order to get an unapproved demolition, he should go to PRISON.

  19. While I see no reason why their demo permit was not approved, the alternative here did place people passing by and neighbors at risk. Interesting that the newly raised fence seem to have caught most of the debris.

  20. I am all for sensible demolition regulation, but the defacto ban on demolitions is not regulation Lark. It leads to things like this and that travesty a few posts down of the suspended facade. How is that or this place being “remodeled” from 850sq to 5000sq feet preferable to demolishing and building from scratch?

  21. @ Rillion: I’m all for people following the legal regulations, despite the fact that one may NOT agree with them.
    You, and this contractor/developer may not like the current controls on residential demolition, and they are welcome to petition the BOS of the Planning Dept. to change the regulations.
    The regulations themselves do not “lead to things like this”. It’s corrupt people/contractors such as Mr. Murphy who chooses to circumvent the law. I believe he knew exactly what he was doing and planned this.

  22. The Weekly had a good article on the farce of demolition permits last year:
    Once again, a policy with good intentions (preserve affordable housing stock) is undermined by a combination of self-interested builders and venal technocrats using weasely interpretations to keep their constituency happy. It’s a genuine interest of the government to keep a mix of housing sizes, conditions, etc. to help preserve affordability. The city suffers in the long run if every 900 sq. ft. house is turned into a 4000 sq ft. mc-mansion. But it’s clear the current anti-demolition policies have never worked as intended, so they either need to be changed or eliminated. Adding more reviews or requirements on top likely won’t work – they really need to go back to the drawing board and ask “if we really want to preserve affordable housing stock, what’s the best approach?”. Maybe a significantly higher permit fee on demolitions or remodels over a certain amount to go into the affordable housing fund. Or significant incentives or fee-waivers to keep smaller houses. Or maybe a land trust to allow people to see a profit on the sale of their house while keeping it affordable. None are perfect, but why muck around with the already-broken system?

  23. I think the more interesting thing for the city to look at is their approval process for the apparatus to enable this sham “renovation.”
    Did they approve of suspending the house in mid-air for months on an unstable hillside? Was the cribbing sufficient and well-constructed? It is an issue of safety, accident or not, that could pop up in other projects and next time could damage the homes of innocent neighbors.
    If the city simply approves the project and does not care how it is done, of course this sort of thing will happen.

  24. @katdip,
    If the policy is designed to assure that SF has “affordable” housing, how about providing that if one builds a replacement house 50% (100%, 150%, whatever) larger than the original house, then the replacement house must contain a second, or in-law unit. This would preserve the more affordable housing option while allowing for the demolition and new construction.

  25. “I think if you want the right to trash your neighborhood through unregulated demolitions there is a state for you. Texas. Scram. You don’t belong here.”
    Sounds suspiciously like “love it or leave.”
    How ironically conservative and non-progressive.

  26. I agree that the entire demolition/renovation permit process needs some serious reviews and revisions, but please:
    Parklife, do not suggest that single family homeowners now get in the business of subsidizing “affordable” housing. Just because an owner wishes to enlarge their house (for their own reasons),does not, in itself endanger any affordability issue in The City.
    And don’t forget, “inlaw” or secondary units within the appropriate zoning requires off street parking for each unit. That must continue to be enforced.

  27. @ Futurist
    Perhaps if more single family homeowners were in the business of subsidizing affordable housing, we would have a bit more affordable housing and/or more reasonable rent control laws.
    As a city, we have already decided that owners have restrictions on their rights with respect to their real estate (merging units, obeying planning and building requirements, parking requirements, evictions, etc.) So requiring that an owner provide an additional unit in exchange for significantly enlarging his/her house would not be a stretch.
    And taking a small, older, home out of the housing stock most assuredly lessens the affordability of that particular house forever.

  28. I seriously doubt if there is even a handful of SFD owners who care to be “in the business of affordable housing”, in the entire city.
    And to be clear, no one is “taking” a small, older home out of the housing stock. That’s ridiculous. They are exercising their inherent right to remodel it, per codes and regulations, and they pay heavily for that right.
    I personally added about 1000 sf to my own SFD, with extensive permits, fees and construction costs, and there is no room for an additional unit, and the last thing I want to be is a landlord.
    Housing affordability here in SF is a complex, emotional issue. Our own city government cannot solve it.
    Your idea will never fly.

  29. Futurist,
    “And to be clear, no one is “taking” a small, older home out of the housing stock.”
    See link to the SF Weekly article that states…
    “Aesthetics aside, 125 Crown Terrace was a deemed a structurally sound, affordable home occupied by rent-controlled tenants in a city where such things are exalted.”
    and then two paragraphs down…
    “An eviction notice affixed to the front door of 125 Crown Terrace flutters in the breeze.”

  30. Refusing to allow 800sq ft SFR’s to be demolished is not part of the solution to aforrdable housing in SF, it is part of the problem!

  31. A place like the original house, owned by the same folks for many decades, with a very low property tax basis, can indeed remain rental housing under rent control (barely).
    The problem comes when places like this are sold. They are immediately assessed by the city to market value, and the new owner is in for a huge property tax bill. At that point, it cannot stand as a rental.
    If the city really wanted to preserve ‘affordable’ places like this, then maybe the’d cut a deal with the new owner promising to keep the tax basis low as long as the legacy tenant stays in place with low rent.
    How about that BOS?
    Yeah. Thought so.
    (anyways, this place is a single family home — aren’t these exempt from rent control?)

  32. @ somabound:
    And the legal owner can exercise their rights to do what they want with the property, within the building and planning codes.
    Sorry for the RENT CONTROLLED tenants. Time to move on.

  33. Huh? I’m an anti-car streetsblog jihadist! And the ship has sailed on that one; SF will always be difficult and expensive place to park. I just take BART and walk when I go into the city.

  34. @somabound
    i think the SF Weekly article raises some interesting issues but it is wrong on rent control.
    long term tenants in sfh’s in sf have just cause eviction protection but not full rent control. (i know several people who had to scramble for housing when their rent was raised to deliver a home vacant for sale or who lived through a sale and expected a windfall only to be surprized by their relocation payout.) their protection is completely undercut by owner move in laws on sale, ellis acting shouldn’t even by needed and as these homes remain sfhs on remodel there are no teeth to any city rules to slow this trend (small home to big home).

  35. In Marin and Sonoma, public and privately-funded Land Trusts exist which purchase development rights from owners of large agricultural parcels in exchange for deed restrictions that prevent those farmers and any future owners of the land from developing the parcels in question. These groups have decided that it is in the public interest for the relevant properties to remain agricultural in perpetuity.
    If a particular group decides that having small houses in San Francisco is in the public interest, they should be able to purchase deeded ‘expansion-rights’ from homeowners, which would prevent expansion of a given home on a particular lot.
    I am sure if someone lines up the money, he/she will find plenty of willing sellers of ‘expansion rights’ and everyone wins.
    Now who’s ready to write a check?

  36. I know soccermom is not kidding, but I wish s(he) was.
    Your comment is among the most classic,reeking of San Francisco misplaced attitude where the rights of private property owners should be now deemed controlled by the “public interest”.
    Truly laughable. Truly insane. Welcome to Communist China, or maybe North Korea.
    Tell us you were really “just kidding”.

  37. Based on Soccermom’s description, how is a private property owner being controlled by the “public interest”? No one’s forcing the property to owner to sell their development rights to their property.

  38. I’d be shocked if they found many takers. What kind of payout would I need to severely reduce the resale value of my property in one of the country’s most expensive markets? Would the process be susceptible to coercion? Allowing neighborhoods to change and redevelop over time is an even greater public interest, and restricting this has perverse side effects.

  39. Actually, back in Houston this strategy has been used to create a “land bank” in the Third Ward, a downtown adjacent area under high gentrification pressure. The goal is to keep property values and tax assessments low by removing developable parcels from the market and tax rolls. This is supposed to limit displacement due to rising rents and cashing out to developers. Like The Mission and Oakland, Third Ward has a long history intertwined with racial politics of the 20th century, so any changes raise deep questions of culture, identity, equity, etc. There is a documentary film, “This is our home, it is not for sale”. http://thisisourhomeitisnotforsale.com/
    I don’t know if the ultimate goal was achieved. Five years ago, Third Ward properties were significantly discounted compared to adjacent Midtown, with few new developments. However, when I last looked the difference had largely been erased. Transit improvements in the area (new light rail) and university expansion may have been too great a force to overcome.

  40. This proves nothing but is an interesting, cocktail party, tidbit.
    Since 2008, 4 Building Inspectors have been out to Murphy’s McMansion at 125 Crown Terrance prior to collapse:
    1) O’Riordan
    2) Duffy
    3) Clancy
    4) And, maybe it was St. Patrick’s Day…Schroeder

  41. Your comment is among the most classic,reeking of San Francisco misplaced attitude where the rights of private property owners should be now deemed controlled by the “public interest”.
    Unless it’s the right of private property owners to build something without parking, of course?
    Anyway, if the city wants to promote more affordable housing, forbidding demolitions doesn’t seem like a very effective method. Instead, why not require more units, since there’s clearly space for them?

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