City Plans For Smart-Growth Around New Central Subway

There’s been a lot of news about San Francisco’s new Central Subway line. Less has been reported about the new, transformative planning efforts for the area surrounding the subway.  After obtaining a key approval from the Federal Government in January, major components of the subway’s construction have begun (as anyone who has done some shopping in Union Square recently will have clearly noticed). When completed (estimated in 2019), the subway will extend the T-Third Street line from the King Street Caltrain station to Chinatown.

Staying true to its name, the Planning Department is already spending considerable time and effort to modernize the zoning in the area around the subway to take advantage of this new transit corridor. Dubbed the “Central Corridor Plan,” the rezoning process has been going on for close to a year. So far, the efforts have been focused on studying the area, conducting outreach with neighborhood residents, owners and businesses, and developing zoning and infrastructure proposals to upgrade the neighborhood. Several proposed scenarios for new zoning and height controls have been made public.

The Central Corridor Plan is smart growth at its best. Anyone who has gotten a degree in Urban Planning in the past decade will tell you that the number one priority in planning new development is taking advantage of transit-rich areas by allowing for higher density housing and workspace. By providing homes and jobs close to transit, residents and workers will be able to live with no- or low-dependence on an automobile. According to the EPA’s most recent annual greenhouse gas inventory, transportation is the second-largest contributor to the U.S.’s greenhouse gas emissions – contributing significantly more of these gasses than even the industrial sector. Reducing Americans’ reliance on automobiles has got to be part of a realistic plan to reduce greenhouse gasses, and the Central Subway is a unique opportunity, as underscored by the Feds’ close-to-$1 Billion investment in the project.

The Central Corridor Plan, bounded by Mission, Townsend, 2nd and 6th Streets, could potentially up-zone the entire area to mixed-use zoning districts (allowing both residential and office uses) and could increase height limits to 85 feet in much of the plan area. This would be a big improvement on the Western SoMa Plan rezoning, currently expected for enactment this year, which would maintain most of the current zoning between Harrison Street and Townsend Street, prohibiting new housing or office – likely preserving surface parking lots in the area for the foreseeable future. Under the Western SoMa rezoning, the Planning Department expects that both housing units and jobs in the area would decrease from current levels. Depending on its final form, the Central Corridor Plan is expected to more than double the number of housing units in the area and to increase the jobs in the area by more than a third of those existing.You can find the proposed rezoning maps at

The Plan does more than just rezoning. It will significantly increase the “livability” of the neighborhood for its new residents and workers. New bike lanes will be installed, pedestrian safety measures will be implemented (this is one of the most dangerous areas in the entire city for pedestrians), and new open space will be created. In short, the plan will leverage the $1.6 Billion investment in the new Central Subway to transform this worn-down part of town into a full-functioning city neighborhood.

Based on the Association of Bay Area Governments Housing Allocation goals, San Francisco is on the hook to provide 31,193 new housing units between 2007 and 2014. The Central Corridor plan will put a significant dent in that number, by paving the way for high-density housing in an area of the city that can handle the new residents while also taking advantage of the new Central Subway, which will connect area residents to a transit network that can take them as far as Gilroy and Pittsburg without ever stepping in a car.  The Central Corridor Plan is expected to be released within the next few months, and must then undergo environmental review, expected to begin this spring or summer. This likely means the Plan will go into effect sometime in 2014. We will keep you posted as the process continues.

Take That NYC!

SF-ers now have a new piece of data to use in their never-ending debate over “best US city” rights with New York. According to the 2010 census, the San Francisco/Oakland region is the second most densely populated city in the United States, after West Coast-neighbor L.A. New York City ranked just fifth in the nation.

In 2010, San Francisco/Oakland averaged 6,266 people per square mile. San Jose was just behind in third with 5,820 people per square mile. Beyond bragging rights, these figures highlight the opportunity we have in Bay Area to provide an example of what the future of smart-growth development should look like. Between a world-class transit system and plenty of growth opportunity, the Bay Area has the ability to provide for more residents without expanding the physical borders of our urbanized area. Just hop off BART at Balboa Park (where the new 5-story, 173-unit, lot line Avalon Bay development is just wrapping up), at MacArthur Station in Oakland (where Phase I of the new 624-unit Transit Village is just underway), or at Civic Center (where Twitter’s new lobby is already open) and its clear there is enormous opportunity to grow from within.

In fact, the 2010 census also concluded that urbanized areas in the U.S. grew at a faster rate than the country as a whole in the past 10 years, 12.1 percent to 9.7 percent, respectively. This is the future of U.S. development.
According to the 2010 census, the top five most densely populated cities in the U.S. are

  1. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim: 7,000 people per square mile (ppsm)
  2. San Francisco-Oakland: 6,266 ppsm
  3. San Jose: 5,820 ppsm
  4. Delano, Calif.: 5,483 ppsm
  5. New York-Newark: 5,319 ppsm

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, 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.

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