This Week:  Student Housing; North Beach Library; BRT Update; SOMA Affordable Housing

New Planning Code Amendments Would Exempt Student Housing from Affordable Housing Requirements

Tomorrow, the Planning Commission will consider proposed amendments to the Planning Code that would recognize “student housing” projects and would exempt them from the Planning Code’s affordable housing requirements. Currently, all new residential projects, including student housing, containing 5 or more units must pay a fee or construct affordable units on- or off-site. However, these requirements are less justified when applied to student housing: many students receive need-based assistance from a school, government or other source that already reduces the cost of housing. In a sense, student housing is inherently affordable housing, and it accommodates students that would otherwise occupy generally-available lower-cost housing.

The amendments would create several definitions to recognize qualified student housing projects. “Qualified students” are those students receiving or eligible for need-based financial assistance. “Qualified student housing” is student housing that a post-secondary educational institution owns or holds under a master lease of at least 20 years in which at least 30% of the rooms or beds are occupied by qualified students. Qualified student housing would be exempted from the Planning Code’s affordable housing requirements so long as the project does not convert existing rental housing. Schools must also file an institutional master plan with the Planning Department making certain findings and an annual report with the Mayor’s Office of Housing.

The San Francisco Housing Action Coalition has been the driving force behind these amendments, first by identifying the issue and then working with the student housing community to draft the amendments. You can show your support for this HAC initiative at the Planning Commission hearing tomorrow at City Hall, Room 400, at 1:30 p.m.

North Beach Library Preservation Controversy Continues

Preserve or replace? Ultimately it will be the Board of Supervisors that will decide the fate of the North Beach library. And this week, we finally got to see where some of them stand on the issue. At the Board’s Land Use and Economic Development Committee on Monday, Supervisors Chiu, Maxwell and Mar all voted against making the library a city landmark. If made a landmark, it would be all but impossible to demolish and replace the library. The ordinance that would landmark the North Beach library will now go to the full Board of Supervisors with a recommendation that the Board not adopt it.

A Draft Environmental Impact Report analyzing the demolition of the existing library to be replaced with a new one has been published and will soon be heard by the Historic Preservation Commission and Planning Commission.

Update on Bus Rapid Transit Along Van Ness and Geary: Don’t Hold Your Breath

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), a public transit system more efficient than typical busing with lower costs than rail, is currently being studied along the Van Ness Avenue and Geary Boulevard corridors. BRT dedicates one or more lanes of traffic to bus use only, making buses faster and more efficient since it is less impacted by traffic. After a number of years of studying BRT’s potential in San Francisco, draft environmental impact reports will be published in 2011 for the system along Van Ness and Geary. Staff at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency reported to the agency’s Board on Tuesday that, while the completion of environmental analysis for the projects was nearing, groundbreaking is not expected to begin until 2013 for Van Ness and 2014 for Geary. And that’s only if the projects are approved by the city, an unsure bet considering the strong opposition posed by business owners along the corridors who fear construction will hurt their businesses. Add to that a funding gap of $130 -$235 million, and the outlook for BRT is pretty hazy.

For a copy of the slide show presented to the Agency Board, go to “”.  To learn more about BRT, go to “” and click on “Geary Corridor Bus Rapid Transit” or “Van Ness Avenue Bus Rapid Transit.”

Planning Code Amendments Would Increase Affordable Housing Requirements in the SoMa Youth and Family Special Use District

Another set of amendments to the Planning Code that would increase affordable housing requirements in the SoMa Youth and Family Special Use District will also be considered by the Planning Commission tomorrow. The district, generally bounded by Natoma, Langton, Harrison, and 4th Streets, was established by the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan to expand affordable housing and restrict uses to promote an environment especially favorable to children and families. Currently, residential projects which contain 5 or more units, are greater than 40 feet in height, and are not adjacent to major streets in the district are subject to the highest affordable housing requirements: 22% for on-site units and 27% for off-site units or the affordable housing fee. Elsewhere in the district, the city-wide affordable housing requirement of 15% and 20% apply.

Proposed by Supervisor Daly, the amendments would apply the heightened affordable housing requirements everywhere in the district for projects that contain 5 or more units and are taller than 40 feet. The Planning Department is recommending disapproval by the Planning Commission, citing that it is too early to adjust the balance between development and community benefits created by the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan.

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