Mayor Proposes Increased Density on Auto-Focused Lots


Mayor London Breed’s “Cars to Casas” ordinance, introduced on October 19, 2021, would eliminate the Conditional Use requirement for the conversion of an Automotive Service Station and would create a new residential density exception for housing projects on sites previously used for auto-oriented uses.

The ordinance cites a wide-reaching set of policy goals: “missing middle” housing production, cutting auto emissions, and traffic safety consistent with the City’s Vision Zero policy. By encouraging the elimination of auto-oriented uses and reducing the amount of property in the city dedicated to cars, the ordinance seeks to decrease auto travel. And in increasing density and streamlining the approval process for eligible residential projects, the legislation hopes to chip away at the housing crisis and incentivize the construction of new apartment buildings—with a focus on small and medium sized projects with at least four units.

For starters, the legislation eliminates the Conditional Use Authorization requirement to convert an existing Automotive Service Station to some other use. This change applies regardless of whether the Auto Service Station would be converted to residential use or to some other non-residential use.

The ordinance zeros in on properties currently used for “Auto-Oriented Uses,” defined as those parcels with an accessory parking lot or garage, or any use defined as an Automotive Use. Planning Code Section 102 defines Automotive Use as follows:

“A Commercial Use category that includes Automotive Repair, Ambulance Services, Automobile Sale or Rental, Automotive Service Station, Automotive Wash, Gas Station, Parcel Delivery Service, Private Parking Garage, Private Parking Lot, Public Parking Garage, Public Parking Lot, Vehicle Storage Garage, Vehicle Storage Lot, and Motor Vehicle Tow Service.”

The legislation would not change this definition.

The Mayor’s proposed density exceptions would apply to all sites with an Auto-Oriented Use where residential use is permitted, except that sites with an existing residential use and those that have had a Legacy Business at any point during the 10 years prior to application submittal would not be eligible. As of today, the Legacy Business Registry lists seven automotive/motorcycle businesses as Legacy Businesses.

On eligible sites, the legislation would principally permit up to four dwelling units per lot within RH zoning districts. In other zoning districts, the legislation would eliminate dwelling unit maximums and would instead regulate the size of residential projects based on the applicable form-based controls (i.e., height, bulk, setbacks, exposure, and open space).

The legislation also proposes to limit the parking maximums that would apply to residential projects approved under the new density exception. Up to 0.25 spaces per unit would be principally permitted and up to 0.5 spaces per unit would be allowed with Conditional Use Authorization. Parking in excess of 0.5 spaces per unit and parking for non-residential components of projects utilizing the new density exception would be prohibited. Permitted parking varies by zoning district, but in most cases, the parking maximums proposed by the legislation represent a decrease from what is currently allowed.

So as to balance the current demand for new housing against the need to retain some of the city’s existing Auto-Oriented Uses—and likely in an effort to temper potential opposition—the legislation includes a sunset provision: once the Planning Department has approved a total of 5,000 units pursuant to the proposed density exception, the exception will expire.


Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorney Chloe Angelis.

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.