Having noticed that buildings which have been shuttered, pending the approval, financing or market conditions for redevelopment, often sit vacant “for months or years, during which [time] the streetscape surrounding the building becomes less inviting and a target for vandalism,” as was the case at 1066 Market Street, pictured above, for around four years, Mayor Breed is championing a proposed amendment to San Francisco’s Planning Code which aims to encourage the activation of said sites.

From Planning with respect to the proposed amendment which would create a new type of Temporary Use Authorization (TUA) specific to development sites and which could be granted for an initial period of up to 36 months, a period which could be doubled by way of three potential 12 month extensions:

“The current process for a building that is slated for redevelopment to establish a temporary use is rife with obstacles.

The first major hurdle can be filing the building permit to change the use. Depending on the proposed use and zoning district, this use permit may require Neighborhood Notification, or a Conditional Use authorization. By the time the permit is granted, the building may be scheduled for demolition.

The second hurdle is whether the proposed temporary use is allowed in the zoning district. There may be uses the Department feels are appropriate for a space on a temporary basis, (and are far more desirable than a vacant storefront), but would not be allowed as a permanent use, and therefore would not be allowed under a traditional change of use permit.

Lastly, many use types come with impact fees. Often, these fees can be a hindrance for developers looking to establish a new use only temporarily.

The proposed Temporary Use for Intermittent Activities on Development Sites permit has been carefully crafted to only allow uses the Department and the legislative sponsors find appropriate to allow in the designated zoning districts, on a temporary basis. The proposed TUA is additionally designed to remove the hurdles for the businesses to establish, like the prolonged permit review time and impact fees.

[In addition], the proposed Ordinance recognizes that even though a project may be approved, market dynamics and building costs can cause additional delays on the project breaking ground [and the] ability for the Director to grant up to three, one-year extensions of the TUA ensures the temporary uses may continue to activate the street in case of delays, while also ensuring the Department feels those uses are still appropriate on a yearly basis after the initial approval period has expired.”

Only sites located in a Commercial (C), Residential Commercial (RC), Downtown Residential (DTR), Neighborhood Commercial Transit (NCT) District, or Neighborhood Commercial (NC) and Mixed Use (MU) Districts within the area bounded by Market, 13th/Duboce, Division and King (aka SoMa), as mapped below, would qualify.

Acceptable temporary uses would include Homeless Shelters; Entertainment, Arts and Recreation uses; Social Services or Philanthropic Facilities; any Agriculture/Beverage Processing, Light Manufacturing, or Metal Working use permitted either conditionally or principally within a PDR-1-D District; any Retail, Sales or Institutional use regardless of its size; any use that’s principally or conditionally permitted in the subject zoning district; and/or any Office Use, “so long as such Office space is less than 5,000 gross square feet and an equal or greater square footage of space is established within a building on the same eligible Development Site and dedicated for Arts Activities and/or Light Manufacturing use.”

And with the Planning Department’s support – and hope that “activating these spaces during their interim periods of development will not only keep the street active but may also provide affordable spaces for businesses that are just starting out, or whose use type cannot pay higher commercial rents” – the proposed amendment is slated to be presented to San Francisco’s Planning Commission this coming Thursday, April 25.

11 thoughts on “Plans to Activate Shuttered Development Sites in San Francisco”
  1. 1. “I’m going to build a wonderful affordable housing project here!” (operates a retail weed store for next 8-10 years).

    2. Planning works to prevent the above.

    3. People keep moving in. Prices keep rising.

    4. Nothing ever really changes.

    5. Except poop. A dramatic increase in poop, per SFGate.

    1. The increase in poop is at least somewhat, if not entirely, because of ease of reporting. There’s a 311 app and Twitter account which make reporting the incidents far easier than they were four years ago.

      1. Also, outside of specific areas of the city the majority of that poop is from careless dog owners. The human poop thing is just too good of a headline for news sites not to run…

        1. You didn’t say what you meant by “specific areas of the city”. The problem is that the areas that do in fact have large-scale contamination by human feces are also areas that are frequented by tourists and convention attendees. I think the majority of dog owners probably avoid walking their dogs in those areas because they don’t want their dog stepping on used drug needles, which are another widespread problem in the same areas.

  2. While “encourag[ing] the activation of [vacant or dormant construction] sites” is a worthy goal, this proposal is misguided. It would be better for the Mayor to direct her efforts toward incentivising developers to proceed with development projects that are permitted instead of letting them sit for years vacant.

    One obvious approach would be to have a progressive fee attached to every extension for an approved project that is not proceeding to construction, and to have that amount increase over time at a rate faster than construction inflation so “developers” don’t treat it like a cost of doing business.

    And b_e_o’s item #4, above, is incorrect, something will change in that if this proposal becomes law: it will be more profitable than it is now for “developers” to land bank, sit on approved projects while awaiting a buyer, and otherwise engage in financial chicanery as opposed to a actual building.

    1. It’s weird how every mayor has talked about this for years (decades?) and for some reason they can’t seem to do anything about it. You would think that the Mayor would be in charge of city employees, but they all seem to be helpless.

  3. Maybe this will work. At least Breed is trying.

    But the other thing she’s doing, the ADU push, is causing unintended problems. They’ve taken people off MEP and put them onto the ADU desk. The result is new, often many months long, turnaround for what was a simple over the counter process.

    Why? Why couldn’t they simply hire new people for the desks?

    And, also, why not this? Why not make the discretionary review process more onerous? Nowadays every NIMBY who couches their language in the requisite buzzwords can stall out a project for a few hundred bucks. Why is that the case, still, at this stage? It’s absurd. There should be real consequences for dismissed DRs. It should be 10s of thousands of dollars. That would keep the NIMBYs at bay, and only legitimate complaints would come forward.

    Also, delete the residential design review shadow committee. Operate strictly off code.

    Make every application easily sunlit. Any political misbehavior, such as a politically connected NIMBY, or a neighborhood design review team shakedown technique, should be easily made public.

    These are the things that need to happen in order to build more efficiently in SF.

    1. Agree with 100% of this.

      But you know who would be opposed? Expeditors. And since so many people in Planning look forward to a lucrative career as an expediter, they don’t want to simplify the system.

      But it’s good that Breed is trying.

    1. In effect it’s binary as the colored areas represent “Commercial (C), Residential Commercial (RC), Downtown Residential (DTR), Neighborhood Commercial Transit (NCT) District, or Neighborhood Commercial (NC) and Mixed Use (MU) Districts within the area bounded by Market, 13th/Duboce, Division and King (aka SoMa),” which are the specific areas to which the proposed amendment would apply.

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