Legislation Seeks to Increase Corner Lot Density in RH Districts

On May 18, 2021, District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman introduced legislation that could increase residential density on corner lots located in Residential, House (“RH”) zoning districts. RH Districts, which occupy most of the western San Francisco landscape, also have the lowest residential density levels that encourage development of single-family homes as well as some duplexes and triplexes.

Mandelman’s proposed legislation creates an exception from residential density limits for all corner lots in RH districts, allowing development of up to 4 units in addition to any permissible Accessory Dwelling Units (“ADUs”). For reference, lots that permit development of four or fewer dwelling units are typically allowed just one ADU under existing zoning. The exception would not apply to projects seeking or receiving a density bonus under California state law.  Further, projects taking advantage of the density exception would be subject to building standards (rear yard setback, usable open space, etc.) applicable to the RH-3 District.

As reported in a recent San Francisco Chronicle article, the legislation originally would have applied to all lots located within a half-mile radius of Muni, CalTrain, or BART station, as well as corner lots. However, Mandelman stated that the broader version would have required extended CEQA study and failed to provide a significant benefit over the current version, since the majority of larger mass transit stops are located on the east side of the City where residential density levels are typically higher. Mandelman stated that he may sponsor citywide legislation to permit fourplexes in the future, but not until San Francisco has completed its pending, long-range “Housing Element” update to the General Plan – likely next year.

Still, the legislation’s current focus on RH districts could provide for significant development potential. The legislation notes that roughly 60% of San Francisco’s developable land area is located in the RH Districts, with 38% of that area zoned exclusively for development of single-family homes. And, according to the San Francisco Planning Department’s March 2020 City’s Housing Affordability Strategies Report, local housing production has been heavily concentrated outside of the RH Districts, in the eastern and southeastern parts of the City, with approximately 90% of all new housing produced in just 10 eastside and central neighborhoods.

Mandelman’s fourplex legislation marks the latest in a number of local, regional, and statewide efforts to increase residential density in areas traditionally zoned for single-family homes or small multi-unit buildings. Berkeley and Sacramento have recently enacted legislation eliminating single-family zoning, while cities like San Jose and Oakland are considering similar measures. And, at the state level, the pending Senate Bill (“SB”) 9 legislation proposes to allow existing residentially-zoned properties state-wide which meet certain requirements to be subdivided into two lots, each of which can contain up to two units (duplex) in a single-family zone with ministerial processing.  After a third reading on the Senate floor and a favorable vote of 28-6, SB 9 is now headed to the Assembly and could pass in this year.

Following its introduction to the Board of Supervisors on May 18, 2021, Mandelman’s fourplex legislation was assigned to the Land Use and Transportation Committee for review following a mandatory 30-day hold period. A Committee hearing date has not yet been set for this legislation.

Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorney Melinda Sarjapur.

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.