Six years ago, the plans for the four-story infill development at 2867-2899 San Bruno Avenue in Portola were drawn, approved and subsequently constructed.

Technically five separate buildings, with 10 residential units over 10 “non-residential” office units and 5 ground floor commercial spaces as designed in order to conform to San Francisco’s Planning and Building Codes, one (1) of the “10” residential units was to be offered at below market rates (BMR).

But with the development nearly completed back in 2017, the property owner (Nelson Tong) and architect (Jeremy Schaub of Schaub Ly Architects) requested that a payment be accepted in-lieu of providing the BMR unit. From said request which was never formally heard nor approved:

“The project is almost complete, and no change is proposed to the size or shape of the structures; Traffic patterns will not be affected; Noise, glare, dust, odor will be prevented; Landscaping, open spaces, parking, lighting, etc. will not be affected; and…the project will be fully code compliant.”

“The Project creates 5 new neighborhood retail establishments and 10 new offices. This proposal includes 10 new family dwellings.”

Keep in mind that the plans for the “office units” were conveniently “designed in a manner that could lend to post inspection residential conversions,” as noted by a plugged-in reader back in 2012.

And with it since being discovered that the “office units” across the second floor of the development were, in fact, converted into 10 unpermitted residential units, and that the 10 permitted residential units across the third and fourth floors of the development were actually converted into 20 smaller units, there are now an additional 20 unpermitted units on the site, for a total of 30, none of which have been offered at below market rates.

A site inspection has also revealed that “the existing exterior facade and architectural design features of the subject buildings are not consistent” with the plans which were actually approved and the garages in each of the five (5) buildings were either altered or removed while the driveway and landscape area on the rear portion of the lots was converted into unauthorized parking spaces.

Having been hit with a Notice of Violation from San Francisco’s Fire Department earlier this year, temporary scaffolding has since been hastily erected behind the building to serve as fire escapes from the unpermitted – but “what’s wrong with more housing” – units.

We’ll keep you posted and plugged-in.

UPDATE: The owner of the building is now seeking to have the 10 “office” units legalized as “accessory dwelling units” (which will require a rezoning of the five parcels to accommodate the additional density) and permits to remove 5 of the 10 unauthorized units above (“for which there is no path to legalization”).  At the same time, the check to secure the permit for said plans, which include the installation of permanent fire escapes, has bounced.

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Comments from “Plugged-In” Readers

  1. Posted by Marten

    Forfeit the building. Where do these people get off?

  2. Posted by SFRealist

    They hired the wrong expeditor.

  3. Posted by Notcom

    Well what IS wrong with more housing ?? I’m not trying to excuse the end-run-around-the-rules here as much as to criticize the inanity of approving – presumably encouraging – office space here in the first place: we’re not talking about downtown or a (regional) transit accessible spot here, but a run-down commercial strip 536 1/2 yards from nowhere…was there really a demand for second floor office space ??

    • Posted by Outoftown

      It looks like they were trying to circumvent BMR requirements – bring it up to current code (not temporary scaffolding), follow current BMR requirements and pay a bunch of permitting fees for the additional units (it’s all about the money…)

      • Posted by Scott F

        The zoning appears to only allow one unit per 800 sqft of lot area, so 14 units on this 11,250 sqft lot. The city should end these antiquated and arbitrary density limits and go to form-based codes. Nothing wrong with 30 units in that footprint if it were fire safe and the BMR fees paid.

    • Posted by Chris

      What IS wrong is that the units are not up to code. As noted, at least 5 of the units can never be legalized as housing. Also, the developer violated their commitments to the city and tried to evade the below-market-rate unit housing requirements. That IS what is wrong with this situation.

  4. Posted by SocketSite

    UPDATE: The owner of the building is now seeking to have the 10 “office” units legalized as “accessory dwelling units” (which will require a rezoning of the five parcels to accommodate the additional density) and permits to remove 5 of the 10 unauthorized units above (“for which there is no path to legalization”).  At the same time, the check to secure the permit for said plans, which include the installation of permanent fire escapes, has bounced.

    • Posted by Adam

      Of course they are. That was certainly the plan from the outset. Is this fraud?

    • Posted by Brahma (incensed renter)

      Should have written “the check to secure the permit for said plans…was returned by the bank for insufficient funds” or something along those lines. “bounced” is a slang term that is unbefitting a fine publication like this one.

      • Posted by iiii

        Wow. That is some next-level fault finding, Brahma.

  5. Posted by Adam

    The property owner and the architect as well (almost certainly in on the deception) should receive more than just a slap on the wrist. And someone needs to figure out how we go from the proposed elevation to the substandard box we see here without the city apparently noticing. This actually makes the building department look more incompetent than many of us had believed them to be.

  6. Posted by TropicalRichmond

    Awful. The developer should be fined and the architect should be reported to the CAB. Not sure they can do anything, but maybe shame them, at least.

  7. Posted by John

    Money is what it all comes down to. They were already making money on the building as planned they just wanted more money. I think they should make all of these added units BMR units and bring the building up to code and a big hefty fine to discourage others from trying this in the future. There is no question they knew what they were doing!

  8. Posted by BitterHomesAndGardens

    Tear it down. We don’t need more housing.

    BMR housing = no housing.

  9. Posted by Scott F

    Not endorsing them breaking the law, but it’s a bad law that 30 new homes can’t be built legally on that plot of land. (With a fire-safe design and inclusionary fees paid, mind you.)

    Fix the zoning. Poll after poll after poll shows a supermajority of San Franciscans want more housing construction.

  10. Posted by Patrick Siegman

    Scott’s right. We shouldn’t condone breaking the law, buildings need to be fire-safe, and inclusionary housing fees should be paid. However, San Francisco’s outdated zoning needs to be fixed. San Francisco’s zoning code focuses on limiting the number of homes per acre. The result is often housing that’s expensive by design. San Francisco’s zoning strongly discourages the construction of smaller, more affordable apartments. It incentivizes the creation of large, expensive homes.

    By contrast, many cities have switched to using form-based codes that focus on regulating the form of the building and the way it relates to the street. Those codes usually remove any restriction on the number of homes per acre. For example, if a code allows a four-story building envelope, and 30 smaller, more affordable homes can fit within it, while still meeting health and fire safety codes, it’s legal.

    Similarly, many cities (including San Francisco) have removed minimum parking requirements since this project was approved and built. That also results in the creation of more, and more affordable, homes, as I wrote about in this article.

    Zoning should help us meet everyone’s basic human needs. It shouldn’t be used as a tool to keep more affordable housing types out of our city.

    • Posted by Chris

      You are conflating two separate issues. San Francisco has made changes to allow increased housing density, reduce or eliminate parking requirement, and support the construction of affordable housing. And, yes, there is much more that can and should be done. However, whatever legislative changes are in order have nothing to do with a corrupt and shady developer trying to circumvent the city’s safety codes and evade paying the mandatory impact/housing fees. These developers are slumlords putting up substandard housing to try to turn a quick buck. They are putting individuals lives in danger and cheating the city out of needed funds that could go to construct safe affordable housing.

  11. Posted by Civic doofy

    “Not endorsing them breaking the law, but it’s a bad law that 30 new homes can’t be built legally on that plot of land. (With a fire-safe design and inclusionary fees paid, mind you.)”

    Homes? Homes are inspected, up to safety requirements and minimum standards. You mean huts.

    Go live in a hut somewhere, do whatever. That’s not how we do things in major cities. YMMV.

  12. Posted by Jeffrey W. Baker

    What’s the difference between the drawing and the reality, as far as the exterior goes? Is it just the cheap windows the city is carping about?

    • Posted by Dijon

      The cheapest aluminum windows they could dig up at second hand. Missing balconies, cheap AF all around materials. First and second floor combined faćade with floor to ceiling windows is missing. Street trees MIA… You could go on and on. These miscreants are flouting the law and deserve to forfeit their property. Maybe then it can be 100% BMR!

  13. Posted by Econ 101

    Supply and demand law at work, we are in the worst housing crisis ever, WHY, zoning code created the housing crunch. What’s wrong with 30 units on the site of this size? The developer is wrong, but the zoning code did more wrongs in creating this housing crisis!

  14. Posted by sfaggregate

    it’s not all about money until they sell the air rights.

    watch this space.

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