This Week in San Francisco Land Use

Planning Commissioners Open to Entitlement Extensions, Looking for Affirmative Steps Taken by Developers

Last Thursday, the Planning Commission held an informational hearing to discuss the Zoning Administrator’s consideration of an entitlement extension for an 88-unit project in Rincon Hill that was approved back in 2005. The entitlement expired in 2008. The Planning Commission ultimately signaled to the Zoning Administrator their support to extend the entitlement, but after some revealing discussion.

Commissioners mainly expressed their desire to see developers affirmatively and voluntarily taking steps to beautify their vacant buildings and lots as much as possible. Specific suggestions included installing artistic fencing around lots, maintaining vegetation, “greening” project sites with aesthetically pleasing plants, and keeping sites clear of garbage and other debris. It appears the Commissioners will look more favorably upon extension requestors that have taken a proactive approach to at least keep their site clean and in good order.

Also, Commissioners expressed their distress over projects whose entitlements have expired long ago are just now coming around to requesting extensions. The lesson: if your entitlement is approaching expiration, be sure to apply for an extension before the performance condition runs. California case law does not allow development entitlements to expire automatically at a certain time, but the Planning Commission can always revoke one. The Commission has yet to deny a request for an entitlement extension or discourage the Zoning Administrator from doing the same in 2009. But that doesn’t mean they can’t.

Sign Company Brings Lawsuit Against City’s Sign Ordinance

After its unique advertising program came under attack by the Planning Department, Contest Promotions LLC brought a federal challenge to San Francisco’s Sign Ordinance. The company’s program consisted of attracting shoppers to a store with an on-site sign promoting prize contests in which one must enter the store to fill out an entry form. The sign would also include an advertisement for a product that was not sold in the store, but was associated with the contest.

The Planning Department began citing Contest Promotions, claiming its signs are violating the city-wide general advertising ban.

In the lawsuit, the company asserts that the Sign Ordinance is unconstitutionally vague, as well as a deprivation of advertisers first amendment free speech rights. If the case proceeds to trial, it should provide some rare judicial comment on the City’s very strict signage rules.

If you would like an electronic copy of the federal complaint, just email us.