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San Francisco Planning Commission Endorses Ordinances to Incentivize Adaptive Reuse in Downtown

May 9, 2023 Articles

The San Francisco Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval on May 4 of two ordinances aimed at revitalizing the City’s Downtown, South of Market Street, and Union Square districts.

Vacant Office and Commercial Building Conversion Into Housing

The first ordinance, proposed by Mayor London Breed and Supervisor Aaron Peskin, incentivizes the conversion of vacant office and commercial buildings into housing while also broadening the types of uses permitted by-right in commercial zones.

As endorsed by the Planning Commission, the ordinance would require eligible projects to:

  1. be located in commercial zones in the Downtown, South of Market Street, and Union Square neighborhoods,
  2. not utilize density bonus incentives,
  3. limit building floor area expansions to no more than 33 percent, and
  4. not add more than one vertical story.

Under the draft ordinance, office- or commercial-to-residential conversions would not be subject to any density maximums and waivers would be available for various Planning Code requirements, including rear yard setbacks, open space, unit mix, and transportation demand management plans. To streamline the entitlement process, public hearings for these projects will only be required if a project proposes a building taller than 120 feet. Similarly, certain landmark and historic preservation procedures will be approved administratively rather than at a public hearing. The San Francisco Fire Department and Department of Building Inspection are working on administrative bulletins that will outline their procedures and requirements for these conversions.

To help diversify the commercial uses in these areas, the legislation also proposes to expand the list of allowed uses to include laboratories, life science, light manufacturing, animal hospitals, senior housing and residential care facilities, outdoor entertainment, open recreation areas, and trade schools. Temporary use authorizations or “pop ups” would be permitted for up to one year and may include retail, art, and entertainment uses. In addition, intermediate length occupancies (ILOs) and live-work spaces would be principally permitted in reuse projects.

Impact Fees Waiver

The second ordinance, introduced by Supervisors Matt Dorsey and Ahsha Safai, would reduce impact fees for commercial to residential conversion projects by eliminating all development impact fees, with the exception of inclusionary housing fees, if applicable. The eligibility criteria under the impact fees waiver ordinance are identical to those proposed under the adaptive reuse ordinance described above.

Before this legislation goes into effect, it must be approved by the Board of Supervisors.

For more information on this topic, see the article "Office-to-Housing Conversion: Legislation – California’s Next Frontier" on AB 1532 and view the recording of a Farella panel discussion on office conversions, "San Francisco’s Downtown: What Does the Future Hold?"

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