Catching Up with the Central SoMa Plan and the Gray Water Ordinance


​Catching Up with the Central SoMa Plan

It has been a few months since we provided an update on the Central SoMa Plan. The Planning Department has issued a number of new policy documents on various aspects of the Plan, some refining proposals it made in November 2014, and some addressing new topics entirely.  

As the RJR Update noted last November (Planning Department Issues New Policy Papers for Central SoMa), the final Central SoMa Plan is likely to include a number of controls and restrictions that were not discussed at great length (or at all) in earlier versions of the Plan. As the City gets closer to finalizing the Plan’s environmental review, its policy papers tend to spell out more directly the rules of the game once the Plan’s zoning takes place. These latest policy papers do just that. Here are a few highlights:

PDR, Arts, or Community Use Requirement for Office Projects. New office developments will be required to provide PDR or community facility space equal to a floor-area ratio ranging between 0.25 and 1, depending on the zoning district. The Code will encourage this space to be located on the ground-floor and directly accessible to the public.  Notably, the Planning Department is now suggesting that office conversions will only be limited on sites currently zoned SLI or SALI, and not on sites that are currently zoned in a mixed-use district.

The TDR Program. The TDR program will indeed be expanded into Central SoMa. The Planning Department has already identified a list of buildings that are expected to be designated under Article 11, which would allow them to sell TDR similar to the current program in downtown. A new feature will be to allow developments that preserve existing historic or contextually-significant buildings to count the square footage maintained in that building against the development’s TDR requirement.

New Bulk Requirements in Eastern Neighborhoods Part of Plan Area. Although the Plan will maintain bulk controls in the C-3 portion of the Plan area, new bulk requirements will be implemented in the remainder of the area. The proposed bulk changes are comprehensive, and are designed to balance between supporting sun, light, and air access to the street and allowing dense developments. Above 85 feet in height, 15 foot setbacks will be required on all sides of a building, and a certain amount of access to the sky (called a skyplane) must be maintained.  

Lot Merger Prohibition for Historic Buildings Outside of C-3 Area. Lot mergers will be prohibited in the Eastern Neighborhoods portion of the Plan area if one of the lots contains an historic or “neighborhood character-enhancing” building and has street frontage less than 200 feet in length. Exceptions to this rule may be granted by the Planning Commission if certain reductions in the apparent mass are provided.

Impact Fees and Assessments. And what about fees? Well, nobody is saying anything on the record, so we imagine the Planning Department is hard at work behind the scenes. At an open house in late March, Planning Director Rahaim alluded to the fact that staff is still working out how impact fees and other assessments will be implemented. We expect the next round of policy papers to contain a summary of proposed fees.

As always, we will continue to provide updates as the Central SoMa Plan continues to move forward towards implementation.

The Gray Water Ordinance

Earlier this month, Supervisor Scott Weiner introduced an important piece of legislation that developers and property owners should keep an eye on.

Supervisor Weiner’s ordinance, now co-sponsored by Supervisors London Breed, Julie Christensen, and John Avalos, would require large developments in the “Purple Pipe” district of the City to implement on-site water recycling programs. The “gray water” ordinance, as it is being called, capitalizes on the mandate in place since 1991 that new buildings in the eastern portion of the city (as well as the Presidio, Golden Gate Park, and Lake Merced areas) incorporate a second set of pipes that could theoretically transport non-drinking water, a.k.a. “gray water,” from City piping into these buildings. The idea was that once the City established a large-scale municipal water recycling program, these buildings could tap into the City’s gray water piping relatively easily. 

The grey water ordinance would eliminate the City from the equation, and require certain large-scale developments in the Purple Pipe district to include their own water recycling facility on-site (at the developer’s cost), or in partnership with neighboring developments. Specifically, all new developments over 250,000 square feet are required to address toilet, urinal, and irrigation demands through on-site recycled gray water. Projects larger than 40,000 square feet that do not pass the 250,000 square-foot threshold are not required to implement an on-site recycling program. Instead, they will be required to prepare a “water budget” assessing the amount of grey water, rainwater, and foundation drainage that is produced on site, and compare that to the project’s planned restroom and irrigation demands. 

Proponents of gray water systems point out that most large-scale recycling systems save their users money. With drought conditions the new normal, the cost of drinking water is not likely to get any lower, and the idea of making productive use of non-potable water is an accepted practice in drought-stricken countries like Australia. Supervisor Weiner’s legislation will probably make its way to the Board of Supervisors’ Land Use and Transportation Committee meeting in early or mid-May, and it is our understanding that in the meantime the Supervisor is reaching out to members of the development community for feedback. We will continue to follow the ordinance as it makes its way through City Hall.

The issues discussed in this update are not intended to be legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is established with the recipient. Readers should consult with legal counsel before relying on any of the information contained herein.  Reuben, Junius & Rose LLP is a full service real estate law firm.  We specialize in land use, development and entitlement law.  We also provide a wide range of transactional services, including leasing, acquisitions and sales, formation of limited liability companies and other entities, lending/workout assistance, subdivision and condominium work.