This Week In Land Use – Sept. 14, 2011

After a summer hiatus, the R&J update is back, ready to provide you with the latest on land use and real estate law and developments in San Francisco and the Bay Area. This week, we provide an update on the Redevelopment dissolution fight and the status of the West SoMa Plan.

Supreme Court to Hear Challenge to Redevelopment Dissolution, Laws Mostly Stayed for Now

As expected, the newest stage of the Redevelopment dissolution fight is in the courts. On August 11, the California Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to the two bills the California Legislature passed and the Governor signed in June. To recap, the first bill effectively dissolved all Redevelopment Agencies in the state, effective October 1, 2011. The second bill allowed Redevelopment Agencies to continue past that date if they make massive annual payments to the state.

The California Redevelopment Association and the League of California Cities, among others, brought a lawsuit challenging the bills. In addition to agreeing to consider the suit, the Supreme Court stayed the first bill, with the exception of the provisions prohibiting an agency from taking on additional liabilities, and stayed the entirety of the second bill. The court agreed to an expedited calendar and expects to rule on the suit by January 15, 2012. Effectively, Redevelopment Agencies will continue to exist on October 1. However, it is likely that those agencies that have passed continuation resolutions with the expectation of making a payment to the state and remaining in existence will be barred from taking on additional liabilities or conducting new business until the lawsuit is resolved.

In local Redevelopment news, Fred Blackwell, director of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, has agreed to take a position with his hometown of Oakland as its Assistant City Administrator. He will oversee the Community and Economic Development Agency (which houses Oakland’s Planning and Building Departments) as well as several other departments.

Planning Commission Begins to Consider Western SoMa Plan

Anyone looking at the Eastern Neighborhoods Area Plan map will notice a big hole between Eastern South of Market area and the Mission/Showplace Square/Central Waterfront areas. This was due to the fact that during the Eastern Neighborhoods rezoning process the Western South of Market community got the Board of Supervisors (with a big push by then Supervisor Daly) to agree to remove the West SoMa area from the larger rezoning so it could go through its own, unique rezoning process. That process has continued on for several years now, and the Planning Department is gearing up for its ultimate adoption, likely in early 2012.

In preparation for that event, the Planning Commission is holding two hearings this month and next on the West SoMa plan. Last week, the Commission considered the current version of the West SoMa community plan.

Proposed rezoning districts appear to have remained relatively the same from the previous draft of the community plan. Those areas above Harrison Street are generally zoned for mixed use and neighborhood commercial uses. Most areas below Harrison Street fall within an art and industrial zone where residential and office uses are not permitted and arts and industrial uses are encouraged. The north side of Townsend Street between Fourth and Seventh Streets is proposed to be rezoned to encourage new office uses.

As for height limits, much of the West SoMa area is currently zoned for heights between 40 and 50 feet. Much of the area above Harrison Street is proposed for heights of up to 65 feet. The north side of Townsend Street is zoned for heights of up to 85 and 95 feet. The expanded office use controls and higher height limits along Townsend Street are planned to accommodate high tech and other office uses located near the CalTrain station.

The plan also calls for some unique zoning proposals. On large development sites, projects can take advantage of increased height limits if community benefits such as open space, child care facilities and streetscape improvements are provided. In the art and industrial districts below Harrison Street, projects can take advantage of increased height limits if ground floor space for arts uses are provided for the life of the project.

The Community Plan includes no significant discussion of the proposed stabilization policy that the Board of Supervisors considered earlier this year. In an earlier update, we reported that the stabilization policy adopted by the West SoMa community task force called for placing strict limitations on development when certain ratios of market rate housing to affordable housing and the number of jobs to the number of housing units were exceeded. The Board of Supervisors adopted a watered-down resolution, urging the Planning Commission “to ensure that policies to maintain the historical balance between affordable and market rate housing and the jobs/housing mix are incorporated into the Western SoMa Community Plan.” More details on this policy should be forthcoming during the adoption process.

Next month, the Planning Commission will hold an informational hearing on the Planning Code amendments related to the West SoMa Plan. This will be the first time the public will see the actual Planning Code changes, which will set use controls, development fee amounts, and design controls for the area. We’ll update you when the amendments are provided.

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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