This Week – Van Ness Zoning Changes; Affordable Housing and Election Update

Zoning Along Van Ness Avenue Getting Attention from Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors

Two ordinances are making their way through the legislative process this month that would change the way commercial uses are regulated along Van Ness Avenue.

The first, introduced by Supervisor Alioto-Pier, would require that neighborhood notice be provided for most new entertainment uses established along Van Ness between Broadway and Golden Gate Avenue. The notice would give neighbors the opportunity to request that the Planning Commission review the proposed use before it is established. The Supervisor introduced this legislation in response to concerns surrounding “The Heights” nightclub, which she reports has generated 42 calls to the Police Department recently, including one for a gun issue. The club had opened without any notice to the neighborhood.

As originally proposed the ordinance would have required conditional use approval by the Planning Commission for all new entertainment uses. However, in response to Planning Commissioner comments and others in the arts and entertainment community, the CU requirement was removed and replaced with a less onerous process.

The second ordinance would change how commercial uses are controlled in RC districts. RC zoning is the underlying zoning district for the majority of Van Ness Avenue. The existing use controls in RC districts are a bit of a mess. Currently, uses that are principally permitted in the nearest Neighborhood Commercial (NC) district are principally permitted on the ground floor and permitted with conditional use approval on the upper floors (don’t worry, we can barely understand it either). This has led to unexpected results on the Van Ness Avenue corridor, with the Polk Street NC district as its closest neighbor. For example, because new full service restaurants are only permitted with conditional use approval in the Polk NC district, they are not permitted in most parts of the Van Ness corridor. This type of restriction simply makes no sense along a corridor that is expected to grow into its own new neighborhood in the years ahead.

Yesterday, the Planning Commission approved changes that would apply NCT-3 district controls on commercial uses in RC districts, including along Van Ness Avenue. This is a huge improvement. The NCT-3 district permits a broad array of commercial uses, and will make it much easier to establish new commercial uses along the Van Ness corridor. The ordinance will now go to the Board of Supervisors Land Use Committee on Monday.

Affordable Housing Program Amendments Expected to Pass on Tuesday

Two amendments to the city’s Affordable Housing Program are expected to be finally passed by the Board of Supervisors next Tuesday. The first, a major overhaul of the program in response to the Palmer state court decision, would largely make permanent the interim controls that have been in place since early this year. Those controls set the default option for complying with the program as the payment of an affordable housing fee, in most cases calculated based on 20% of the number of units proposed in a housing project. A project sponsor can also choose to provide for-sale below market rate units on-site or off-site, which in most cases must make up at least 15% and 20% of the total units proposed, respectively. A project sponsor can choose to provide rental below market rate units on-site or off-site only under certain circumstances, such as when the project receives public assistance or the project sponsor enters into a development agreement with the city.

The overhaul also provides some flexibility in the program so that the Planning Commission can approve future modifications to the administration of below market rate units that are unable to resell, due to current market conditions.

The second amendment to the Affordable Housing Program provides an exemption for student housing projects. If passed, the amendment would exempt qualified student housing projects from the requirement that a certain number of the new units be provided at below market rates. The amendment should pave the way for future student housing in the city, desperately needed in response to the new or expanded university campuses proposed by UCSF, San Francisco State, and UC Hastings. Thanks again to SFHAC for their leadership on this important change in law.

November Election Results Certified; Transfer Tax Increase to go into Effect

This Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors certified the local results of the November 2010 elections. The results provided no last minute surprises. However, the certification was relevant with regard to the effective dates of passed propositions, which go into effect 10 days after the Board certifies the election.

As a result, the transfer tax increase on real property sales of $5 million or more will go into effect on December 17.

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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