San Francisco Planning Commission Recommends Approval of Legislation to Further Ambitious “Housing For All” Plans and Downtown Economic Revitalization

In response to Mayor London Breed’s recent Executive Directive, titled “Housing For All,” on May 4, 2023, the San Francisco Planning Commission voted to recommend that the Board of Supervisors approve a package of Planning and Building Code amendments intended to spur reinvestment in the City’s commercial core. (See earlier post regarding the Mayor’s Executive Directive here.) The proposed legislation, referred to as “Commercial to Residential Adaptive Reuse and Downtown Economic Revitalization,” would affect all of Downtown and much of Union Square and SoMa.

If adopted by the Board of Supervisors, the legislation, sponsored by Mayor Breed and Board President Aaron Peskin, would:

  • Facilitate residential uses Downtown. The package of amendments includes various legislative changes intended to facilitate residential uses Downtown.
    • Conversion of Downtown non-residential buildings to residential use. This amendment would create a new defined term “Commercial to Residential Adaptive Reuse,” which is “to change the use of an existing Gross Floor Area from a non-residential use to a residential use pursuant to Section 210.5.” It would add a new Section 210.5 to the Planning Code for “Commercial to Residential Adaptive Reuse Projects” that 1) are located in a C zoning district that is east of or fronting Van Ness/South Van Ness Avenue and north of Townsend Street, 2) would not increase the existing building envelope by an amount equal to more than 20% of the existing building Gross Floor Area, 3) would not add more than one vertical story, and 4) do not seek a density bonus under the State Density Bonus Law. For qualifying projects, certain development controls would be waived, including those for rear yard, lot coverage, open space, and dwelling unit mix, among other changes. To incentivize potential project sponsors to take action as soon as possible, applications for Commercial to Residential Adaptive Reuse Projects must be submitted by December 31, 2028.
    • Streamlined administrative approval for projects in the C-3 district. For projects in the C-3 district, a Planning Code Section 309 hearing would no longer be triggered for projects adding more than 50,000 gross square feet of floor area. The height triggers for a Section 309 Planning Commission hearing also would be increased from 75 feet, such that a Planning Commission hearing would be required for new construction that would exceed 120 feet in height, and for vertical additions that would cause a building to exceed 120 feet.
    • Modify height exemptions. For rooftop features listed in Planning Code Section 260(b)(1), the vertical portion of those features to which the height exemption would apply would be increased from the top 10 feet to the top 16 feet of the features where the height limit is 65 feet or less, and from the top 16 feet to the top 20 feet where the height limit is more than 65 feet. In the C-3, CMUO, and Central SoMa MUR/MUG districts, rooftop restaurants and bars that do not exceed 16 feet in height also would be exempt.
  • Economically revitalize Downtown. These amendments would generally add flexibility and relax existing use restrictions in the Downtown area, and include:
    • Adding Flexible Workspace as a new defined use, and permitting Flexible Workspace where ground floor commercial uses are required.
    • Removing size limitations applicable to single retail uses in the C-3 district to allow larger retailers.
    • Allowing for pop-up uses as temporary uses in certain portions of the C Districts.
    • Principally permitting Life Science and Laboratory uses in the C-2 district, and Senior Housing and Residential Care Facilities in the C-3 district.

At its May 4th hearing, the Planning Commission proposed recommended modifications to the legislation to the Board and the Mayor for their consideration.

The Planning Commission also voted to recommend that the Board of Supervisors adopt a companion piece of legislation sponsored by Supervisors Matt Dorsey and Ahsha Safai. That legislation would exempt the residential Gross Floor Area of Commercial to Residential Adaptive Reuse Projects from all development impact fees, except for inclusionary housing requirements.

We will continue to monitor these pieces of legislation and the City’s other housing plans and Downtown revitalization efforts.