This Week in San Francisco Land Use

Central Corridor Draft Plan Released:  Adoption Hearings May be as Early as Mid-2014

At long last, the Planning Department last week made public the draft Central Corridor Plan.  This document will provide the policy basis for the rezoning, Planning Code amendments, fees and neighborhood improvements associated with the Central Corridor Plan.  The plan is quite ambitious, and beyond the rezoning and Planning Code amendments, foresees significant upgrades and overhauls of the local transportation system (beyond the obvious Central Subway), creation of new parks and “public ways,” and establishment of an “eco-district” to improve urban sustainability in the area.  This week’s Update provides highlights of those plan elements that are most relevant to development in the area, but we recommend reading the full plan for anyone interested in the broader picture:

The biggest news from the Draft Plan is that the Planning Department is suggesting that the plan could be adopted as early as mid-2014.  Considering the Notice of Preparation of the EIR for Central Corridor was just issued this week, that is a fast turnaround – and shows the plan to be a priority for the Planning Department.
At a high level, the Plan is intended to maximize the value of the multi-billion-dollar Central Subway currently under construction along 4th Street.  The Plan will allow for an additional 5,563,700 square feet of new office space above what is currently permitted, and an additional 3,490 dwelling units.  The Plan generally favors commercial development over residential development – and enforces this by requiring commercial use on larger lots generally south of the freeway.  Big-box standalone retail will not be permitted.  Tourist hotels will no longer be limited by room count.

The Plan gives new details on how taller buildings will be regulated.  Higher-zoned sites will have a no-bulk-limit base up to 85 feet, with towers above set back at least 15 feet.  Tower floor plates will be limited to 15,000 square feet for commercial uses and 12,000 square feet for residential uses.  Tower separations of 115 feet will be required.  Some height limits have been tinkered with since the last proposed height map was published. 

The Plan will encourage retention or additions to existing buildings in several ways.  Lot mergers of smaller lots in the area will be restricted, although higher FAR limits will apply to smaller lots.  Building retention will be incentivized by providing an FAR bonus for additions instead of demolitions.  A Transferable Development Rights program will be established for historic buildings – development sites may need to purchase TDR for floor area above 4:1 or 5:1 FAR.

Eastern Neighborhoods impact fees would generally remain the same, with the exception of a new tier of higher fees that will apply to properties that received a height limit increase of more than 60 feet (roughly $20/sf for residential use, $18/sf for non-residential use).  For lots formerly zoned SLI or SALI, minimum below-market rate housing requirements will increase, similar to the requirements in the UMU districts.

We will continue to track the Central Corridor Plan’s progress, and keep you posted on all major milestones. 

CEQA Reform Effort:  Inching Closer to a Possible Deal

We informed readers last week about the Land Use Committee’s hearing on CEQA reform on Monday and the progress towards a potential deal on setting time limits for filing appeals on CEQA exemptions and negative declarations.  Progress continues to be made, although it has been anything but smooth.  First, Supervisor Kim has amended her legislation to include time limits on appeals.  This now leaves us with two pieces of CEQA reform legislation, BOTH including time limits on appeals of all CEQA documents.  This is a major victory – just last November, Supervisor Wiener’s legislation underwent a major assault of opposition at the Planning Commission and many observers predicted reform was dead.  We now have competing CEQA reform proposals, both including appeal period limits.
Supervisor Chiu requested several amendments to Wiener’s legislation on Monday that, upon first review, Supervisor Wiener believed he could accept.  The hearing was again continued for another two weeks to May 6, to give time for the public to review the amendments.  In the meantime, Supervisor Kim’s legislation is being heard at the Planning Commission today. 
There is still some serious legislating to be done on CEQA reform, but barring a complete failure of the process, it appears we are on track for CEQA appeal periods this legislative term.

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.