Marketed as a single-family home, with a central internal staircase connecting the two units of the redeveloped Dolores Heights duplex at 3790-3792 21st Street, a connection which would have constituted an unpermitted merger of the units, a site visit by a senior member of the City’s Planning Department revealed that “an interior wall [has] been constructed at the ground floor creating a disconnection between the dwelling units.” And as such, the alleged Dwelling Unit Merger (DUM) issue has been resolved. But the site visit uncovered a number of other, and potentially more problematic, issues.

According to the Senior Planner that conducted the visit, the exterior of the luxury redevelopment doesn’t match the approved plans and permits for the project, “including exterior window and door configurations,” “a lack of an exterior window on the ground floor along 21st Street,” and “[an unpermitted] deck at the second floor.” In addition, the redevelopment, much of which was conducted under wraps, has now been formally flagged for a potential violation of the City’s rules governing demolitions.

As such, a formal Notice of Enforcement (NOE) having just been issued for the property, the listing for which has been scrubbed from the MLS without a reported sale, and a formal Notice of Violation (NOV) will be issued, and potential daily penalties assessed, unless the violations are abated, with approved plans, permits and inspections, within the next 15 days. And if the project is found to have crossed the City’s threshold for demolitions, the project team will have to seek a retroactive Conditional Use Authorization (CUA) for the redevelopment as well.

34 thoughts on “Out of the DUM Frying Pan and Into the Fire”
  1. Once these problems have been solved — assuming the evil perpetrators are not sent to the Gulag for life — the building will be sold to a nice family, who will promptly remove the “disconnection” wall and live in the house, as common sense dictates.

    1. That’s what I recall. So the greedhead developers are long gone, and will be laughing their way up the back nine on a nice course in Florida while the current owners sort all of these issues out and pay through the nose for the privilege.

      The illegality of the DUM was disclosed before the sale, so the current owners will need good luck to find a lawyer who wants to file suit against the seller.

    2. I would assume not since the city issued a notice while the property was still listed, and also all unpermitted work would have to be disclosed to the buyer, or it is grounds for rescission of the sale and a potential claim for damages.

    1. The developer sued the city, and the city rescinded its order to restore the original house and entered into a settlement agreement with the developer to allow construction of a new larger, but somewhat more modest home than the developer originally proposed.

      1. That said, the settlement did not resolve all claims, and the developer continued with litigation against the city. I am not sure how that was ever resolved, I know a motion dismiss all claims filed by the city was denied in part and granted in part.

      2. That’s correct. But the developer is now seeking approval for a larger “two-unit” building to rise on the Hopkins site. And on a related note, unlawful demolitions come with a 5-year hold on redevelopment.

    1. “And if the project is found to have crossed the City’s threshold for demolitions, the project team will have to seek a retroactive Conditional Use Authorization (CUA) for the redevelopment as well.”

      I bet there’s a very good chance of that.

    2. You’re right, this isn’t another Ghost Ship. And to be honest, the topic and trend at hand, in terms of enforcement, is really only relevant to people who are buying, selling, developing, building, marketing or underwriting properties in San Francisco.

      In terms of the ease with which the silly NOE can be resolved, a new set of as-built plans will need to be drawn and submitted along with a new permit application, highlighting any changes from the plans as approved as well as the building’s original condition. A new set of demolition calculations, reflecting the as-built versus permitted and original states, will need to be prepared as well, taking into consideration San Francisco’s “tantamount to demolition” law, with a potential Conditional Use Application (CUA) and review to follow.

      And in addition to the pesky fines and soft costs associated with correcting the NOE, don’t forget to include the extended holding costs and a reserve to address any deviations from San Francisco’s Planning Code, particularly with respect to the windows, in your calculations.

      1. Well happily – if that be the right word – they’ve already spent more than seven years on this project – calculating form the time it was purchased in 2014 – so what’s a few more…really? I’m guessing a large contingency budget was drawn up (even if it must be nearly exhausted by now).

      2. How much do you think this enforcement action will cost the owners?

        My guess is about $50k at the most, pretty small potatoes in the context of the overall project costs.

        1. You are not considering the additional carrying costs until the project is brought into compliance, as well as the missed sales opportunity with buyer they had before this enforcement action.

      3. The unpermitted deck may be an issue.

        They likely need a full 311 neighbor notification review process for a new deck. We have a neighbor who got hit with this. They had to tear down the unpermitted deck, do the full review, then they built the replacement. Took them two years.

        1. 311 notices for private property construction should be abolished.

          It’s as if your neighbors should be notified in advance if you’re going to buy a specific car, and then weigh in on whether such a car is appropriate for the neighborhood.

          1. Well, is your car in danger of collapsing and sliding down the hillside onto my property and causing damage or injuring someone?

  2. I’m more concerned by the major tripping hazard they left on the sidewalk. Why haven’t they been ordered to fix *that*?

  3. My question is how did this pass final inspection, not for the DUM merger (that could be done after inspections), but all the exterior work, lack of windows, likely demolition, etc.? Do the inspectors actually look at the submitted plans when they do the final? Smells like incompetence or corruption the first time around, which allowed those things to pass.

    That said, unlike some jurisdictions, SF doesn’t field check the “existing” portions of remodel plans, so unscrupulous developers often present the existing structures conveniently close to what they want to build (i.e. fiction). It never gets caught unless someone complains, and even then it gets ignored. I had Dan Lowery at DBI (head of inspections at that time) tell me with a straight face that a brand new wall and footings in a 100 year old house was “existing”, even after I showed him photos from the sale that is was not. It took an appeals board hearing to make the flipper admit they expanded the footprint, and there was no sanction for filing false “existing” plans to DBI.

    1. In what way was the world a better place (yours or anyone else’s) by the amount of time you spent complaining about the provenance of a wall in a house being remodeled?

      Was there anything else that you could have been doing with your time to make the world a better place?

      Did you ever consider just minding your own business?

      1. How about helping my elderly Chinese-speaking neighbors who were upset and losing sleep because the rapacious building had ripped down their adjoining fence and downspout (during the winter), expanded the footprint of the house encroaching over their property line (that was the wall, which was actually a 10×10 addition/extension he said was “existing”) and refused to talk or meet with them? The neighbors just wanted to talk with the guy to work out some mutual issues, but he was a jerk and they felt helpless. Does that qualify for my Good Samaritan award?

        Turns out the guy was a serial flipper who flouted the Planning and DBI rules by filing fake “existing” plans to avoid neighbor notification. In delving into his permit history, he had 30+ projects over the previous 3 years, one-third of which had substantiated complaints (with NOVs) of work beyond permit. He was clearly a DBI frequent flyer and had the system wired.

        The irony is, in our neighborhood, he could have done what he wanted with no neighbor pushback if he had actually followed the process and wasn’t a jerk. But we got no help from DBI, and the only thing that worked was to challenge some of his permits at the Appeals Board. He immediately hired a non-crooked architect to meet with us and work out a mutually agreed upon arrangement. But hey, I guess having to do it right only when you’re caught makes him the good guy and me the no-good busybody. Must be nice to live in your Ayn Rand world.

        1. It seems like you feel righteously justified in participating as a third party in a dispute between neighbors. The right way to handle a property line dispute is to hire a surveyor and have parcel boundaries identified. At that point if new construction encroaches on another parcel, there would be good grounds for a lawsuit.

          You haven’t really answered the question about whose life was improved by your efforts to stymie the construction.

          I don’t think it is my business to tell my neighbors who to marry, what car to drive, what to eat, who to hire, how to worship, or what to do with their private property. If there is no public property involved, there should be a very limited public interest beyond safety. If my neighbor wants to combine two duplex units to make a bigger house, great, go for it. If my neighbor wants to add a granny unit/ADU etc. great, go for it.

          The reason we have these laws like SB35 and SB9 is that our local processes have become entirely sclerotic and resistant to change in part because of well-meaning people like you who presume a right to ‘work out some mutual issues’ any time something happens in a neighborhood.

          If it isn’t my private property, it really isn’t my business.

          San Francisco needs to be allowed to evolve and adapt and change.

          1. That’s a demented take and chock-full of false equivalencies. Helping a neighbor resolve a legitimate dispute is justified and commendable. So is stymieing illegal construction and bad actors.

          2. Indeed, commendable if true. And believing someone’s strident language devoid of context can be described as confirmation bias. Words like rapacious, encroaching, serial flipper, non-crooked, DBI frequent flyer, “their” .. fence, adjoining, “beyond permit, etc etc etc are not neutral language.

          3. Everyone, it seems is overlooking the delightful theatre of someone butting in to tell someone …they shouldn’t butt in.

            Now, perhaps, we can return to the topic at hand: the world most definitely not being made a better place by the visual charm of the original being replaced by this MOMA outcast; the best place for it would have been opposite 1155 Market (the home of Lighthouse for the Blind)

          4. Could not agree with you more and refreshing for a San Franciscan to believe in private property rights. The tax dollars spent to “protect” dwellings that have no architectural merit – other than their age – and to encourage residents to believe that they have veto rights over design that offends them in some way – make this city a laughing stock in the national architectural community.

            The most acclaimed residential architects in the world wouldn’t waste their time or talents in a city where age is the equivalent of merit or significance. Look around.

        2. The project was DR’d to try to get the 3rd story removed before they started. So that “no neighbor pushback” line isn’t right.

  4. Total clown show over there from the get go. Screwed over quite a few trades persons along the way. Bad design and greed.

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