Japantown; Expansions of Non-Conforming Dwelling Units; The New Yorker on Formula Retail

Japantown Proposed for a Zoning Facelift

This month, the Planning Department is unveiling its years-in-the-making community strategy to preserve and promote the cultural heritage of Japantown.  The Japantown area generally runs along Geary Boulevard and Post Street between Fillmore and Laguna Streets, and along Buchanan Street for a block and a half north of the well-known Peace Pagoda building.  After Japanese immigrants relocated to the area after the 1906 earthquake, Japantown became one of the largest Japanese enclaves outside of Japan – and today is the oldest and largest such enclave in the United States (the only other remaining Japantowns in the US are in San Jose and Los Angeles).  The Japantown planning process was initiated in response to concerns in recent years that the neighborhood was losing its cultural identity and that the community had not been involved in its recent planning and development.

The Japantown Cultural Heritage and Economic Sustainability Strategy (JCHESS) outlines a number of goals, including creating community groups that can help develop or guide development, improving the various pedestrian malls in the area, creating area-specific design guidelines, and rezoning the area within a new Japantown Special Use District (“SUD”).  The proposed SUD generally promotes greater retail uses in the area by relaxing controls on upper stories and requiring retail uses on the ground floor.  Automobile uses are further discouraged, new curb cuts are prohibited along most streets, and only two banks are allowed.  Housing is also allowed at greater densities.

The JCHESS document provides a detailed and fascinating history of San Francisco’s Japantown, as well as the City’s Japanese population.  It can be accessed at http://www.sf-planning.org/ftp/files/plans-and-programs/in-your-neighborhood/japantown/JCHESS_Revised_Draft_9-12-2013_WEB.pdf.  The Planning Commission initiated the Code amendments earlier this month, so expect them to be enacted in late 2013 or early 2014.

Easier Alterations to Non-Conforming Dwelling Units Proposed

Citing the need to provide greater flexibility to improve and alter existing dwelling units in the City, Supervisor Avalos has introduced legislation, reviewed last week by the Planning Commission, that would do just that.  Of the roughly 360,000 dwelling units in the City, nearly 52,000 are non-conforming with respect to density (they were built before current density limits and now exceed the permissible density).  As a result, these units currently may not be enlarged or altered.  The legislation would allow the expansion or alteration of these units so long as it does not expand the envelope of a building as it existed on January 1, 2013.  These dwelling units would still be subject to the Planning Code’s dwelling unit removal controls – which require Department or Commission approval for removal of dwelling units and enlargement of certain units.  But such enlargements would at least be permitted.  This common-sense legislation was recommended by the Planning Commission last week and now moves on to the Board of Supervisors.

San Francisco Formula Retail Debate Makes it into the New Yorker

Those of us in the development and land use community love our jobs, but we all recognize that our field does not typically inspire the same interest and excitement in the literary community outside of local blogs and industry publications.  However, do not fear, those of you who would like to elevate our profession to be material for cocktail parties on the Upper West Side.  This week, the New Yorker magazine published an online article covering the ongoing debate over formula retail in our fine City.  And the angle of this liberal-ish publication isn’t necessarily what you would expect – which sheds light on the ironies involved in the fight against Big Retail. 

Check it out:


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.