Update: This Thursday, February 1st, Expanding Housing Choice is going to present in an informational hearing on final zoning proposal, which is being submitted to the Mayor for consideration and introduction at the Board of Supervisors. Expanding Housing Choice involves changes to San Francisco's zoning rules to accommodate new housing, increase housing affordability for low- and middle-income households, and help advance racial and social equity.
Key changes include:
- Higher heights (ranging from 140’ – 300’, or 14-to-30 stories) at key intersections and areas that currently allow heights of 80’ or more.
- Adding additional Neighborhood Commercial (NC) parcels that were proposed for removal of numerical density limits under separate pending legislation by the Mayor and Supervisor Safai.
- Adding additional areas for increased height limits and increasing proposed height limits ever further based on community and Supervisor feedback.
- Further sculpting off the main corridors and lowering height and density in various locations that are primarily residential.
If you wonder how the new zoning regulations influenced the value of your property, check your address here.
Background. On April 18th Mayor London N. Breed and Supervisor Joel Engardio introduced legislation to remove barriers in the San Francisco Planning Code in order to make it easier and faster to approve new housing. This legislation was intended to eliminate unnecessary processes and hearings, eliminate certain requirements and geographic restrictions, and expand housing incentive programs for new housing that fits within the City’s existing zoning laws. Many skeptics disregarded the Housing Element because they found it unreasonable considering the difficulties in getting any project entitled in San Francisco. Even more, we've seen a lot families moved to other cities like Seattle or other states like TX and FL because of the housing prices and lack of middle-housing in Bay area.
"San Francisco has to take aggressive actions to fundamentally change how we approve and permit housing,” said Mayor London Breed. “By removing unnecessary barriers and rules for projects that already comply with existing zoning, we can get housing built faster. If we want to create housing for working people and families in this City, we can’t just talk about wanting more housing – we have to take action to cut the rules and regulations to get more homes built.”
What does Expanding Housing Choice final proposal includes?
The Final Zoning Proposed Zoning Map would produce similar amounts of housing capacity as the scenarios presented in the Sites Inventory and Rezoning Program adopted in the 2022 Housing Element, which were estimated to produce capacity for roughly 49,400-63,900 new units.
The final map continues to concentrate new housing on major transit routes, commercial streets, and other major thoroughfares and hubs of activity, as these areas are better served by transit, retail, and other amenities, and contain more sites that are suitable and likely to developed into housing. Most sites would be rezoned to result in mid-rise development (65’ to 85’, or 6-to-8 stories). Heights of 85’ are generally proposed for wider streets adjacent to or near major transit lines and stations.
Some higher heights (ranging from 140’ – 300’, or 14-to-30 stories) are proposed in areas that:
o Currently allow heights of 80’ or more (for example, the greater Van Ness corridor)
o At key intersections and locations along major corridors (for example, at major intersections on Geary Boulevard and Lombard Street).
The proposal has been mindful of the core physical patterns of San Francisco and in keeping with principles of the Urban Design Element, including consideration of key characteristic views from major public vantage points, such as from the tops of hills, parks known for their views, and from the waterfront. The proposal also fulfills the Urban Design Element’s guidance to locate taller buildings in areas of greater activity and transit access and to mark key locations in the City.
If you want to know how much you can build on your property now, you can find out easily by looking up your address.
State & Local Programs: Parallel Options to Reach Proposed Heights
The zoning amendments will establish changes to underlying zoning requirements, and then projects will have multiple pathways to achieve the final heights illustrated in the Final Proposed Zoning Map: 1) projects may opt in to a local Housing Element zoning program (“local program”); or, 2) they may use the base zoning layered with other state bonus laws (such as State Density Bonus, AB2011, and AB1287). These options are illustrated in Figure 1 below (Zoning Structure: State and Local Programs). In summary, these changes include: Base Zoning:
Underlying zoning will be amended to address various topics, including the following:
1. Density decontrol (to establish form-based zoning) and minimum densities on all rezoned sites.
2. Height amendments that allow projects to use either local or state programs, with the intention that heights generally would not exceed the maximum heights indicated in the Final Zoning Proposal. (In implementation, this means that parcels would be designated with two different heights: a primary height limit, which would be the basis for projects that choose to use state bonus programs, and a secondary height limit available for projects that opt to use the local program instead of other entitlement pathways. For instance, a lot shown on the proposed map at 85’ would have a primary height limit of 55’ feet and a local program height limit of 85’.
3. Objective Design Standards that will set clear requirements on a limited set of topics, while still allowing for freedom of architectural expression.
Planning Approvals, including Ministerial and Streamlined Review
The Housing Element and state law require that the City provide pathways for qualifying projects to seek ministerial and/or streamlined project approval. If projects meet applicable criteria, they may be eligible for one of the following:
1. Ministerial review, under various state laws including SB423, AB2011, and the Housing Element “low income sites” provision. Under the local program, projects may also elect to use a newly created Housing Sustainability District (HSD).
2. Streamlined approval, if a project is ineligible for ministerial review (for example, if they do not provide on-site affordable housing units), they may still be eligible for streamlined approvals. In accordance with state law (SB330), this could include administrative approval within 30-60 days of project acceptance. Projects that are consistent with the development density of the Housing Element EIR may also be eligible for streamlined environmental review through the Department’s General Plan Exemption (GPE) process.
Some projects may require additional review and/or hearings depending on the project scope. For example, projects that propose to demolish rent-controlled housing or multi-unit buildings would require a Conditional Use Authorization from the Planning Commission.
— CEO and Co-founder, CityStructure
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