West SoMa Alert: Commission Signals Potential to Relax Use Restrictions in Historic Buildings

​While the West SoMa Community Plan has been in the works for over ten years, Planning Commission review and approval looks likely to wrap up after just a month of public hearings next Thursday.  Surprisingly, there has been little public comment over the course of several hearings on the plan in November.  Why surprising?  Because many of the new zoning districts will severely limit the uses that can be conducted in existing buildings.  And very little discussion of this has been conducted to date.

Yesterday, the Planning Commission discussed this issue at an informational hearing on the plan.  In the proposed Regional Commercial District, which will apply to much of 9th and 10th Streets in the plan area, only five non-residential uses will be permitted on the third floor of buildings and above.  On the second floor, not much is permitted beyond retail and industrial use.  Office is permitted on only the first or second floor, not both.  The use controls for the proposed Folsom Street Neighborhood Commercial Transit District are similar.

What the Planning Commission is now considering is allowing for relaxed use controls (i.e. permitted office) for certain types of historic buildings.  The Planning Department has conducted a historic survey for the area, and a large number of buildings in the area have been recognized as having some level of historic character – so these historic use controls could mean the difference between a vacant building and an occupied building for many owners.

While the Planning Commission has expressed some interest in applying these historic use controls in West SoMa, they won’t feel much urgency to do so, or the need to apply them broadly, if existing owners don’t make their voices heard.  This is a key moment in the West SoMa rezoning process, and owners could seriously improve their zoning situation with some effort over the next week.  The new zoning will likely be in place for decades.

Those who are interested can write a letter to Planning Commissioners expressing their desire to see the historic use controls apply broadly.  Even more importantly, owners can attend next week’s hearing, which will take place at 12 p.m. on Thursday, December 6, in Room 400 of City Hall to express their interest.  

Reuben & Junius is following the development of the West SoMa plan closely, and can provide further guidance to those interested parties who would like to see the zoning controls for historic buildings in West SoMa to be relaxed.  You can contact John Kevlin at (415) 567-9000 or jkevlin@reubenlaw.com.  We will continue to report on the West SoMa plan as it nears adoption.

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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