Ordinance makes it easier to replace gas stations and parking lots with housing in San Francisco

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California Construction News staff writer

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has approved a housing ordinance to make it easier to build housing to replace gas stations, parking lots, and other auto-oriented lots. The “Cars to Casas” ordinance was supported by housing and environmental activists, including YIMBY Action, the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition, and Brightline Defense.

The ordinance will increase density on auto-centric lots up to four units in residential housing (RH) zoning districts. In other zoning districts, where housing is already permitted, the density will be relaxed to be “to-form,” set by existing height, bulk, and set back requirements.

Height limits will not be raised in any zoning districts, only density will be relaxed. This will help transition what are under-utilized lots into desperately needed housing.

“This legislation is part of our critical work to remove barriers to building new housing,” said Mayor London Breed. “We need to keep moving solutions forward to streamline housing approvals if we are going to meet our state-mandated housing goals of building 82,000 new homes over the next eight years. We know there is much more work to do but this is a step in the right direction.”

Cars to Casas will also make it easier to transition away from auto-oriented uses by removing the existing conditional use requirement to remove an auto use, which will help cut bureaucracy, another impediment to building affordable housing.

A study by technical consultant Century Urban revealed that by removing unnecessary constraints in the zoning code, this ordinance would improve project feasibility and open up new opportunities for housing production. However, given current economic conditions, this study found that feasibility remains challenging for most project types due to a mix of factors, including the City regulations and requirements, and that projects could become more feasible due to further efforts to address these issues.

San Francisco’s pending housing element update includes policies to remove City-imposed constraints on housing production. Under state law, this plan must be approved by January 31st, 2023 and then certified by the California Department of Housing and Community Development. San Francisco’s housing goals set by the state are to build 82,000 new homes over the next eight years.

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