Legislation would remove barriers to convert downtown San Francisco office buildings to housing


California Construction News staff writer

San Francisco’s planning commission has approved legislation including strategies to help fill vacant space in the downtown and Union Square areas.

If approved, planning and building codes would be changed to simplify the approval process and requirements for converting existing office buildings into housing.

Second, restrictions would be removed to allow for a greater variety of businesses and activities in Union Square and throughout downtown.

“The challenges require us to imagine what is possible and create the foundation for a stronger, more resilient future,” said Mayor London Breed. “We can create more opportunities to fill our empty buildings, whether that’s to create housing or making it easier to fill office and retail space.

“These changes shouldn’t be something that requires granting exceptions through lengthy paperwork and exhaustive public hearings. We need to make the process easier for getting our buildings active and full.”

Paving the Way for Housing – a primary component of the legislation would encourage housing production through commercial-to-residential conversions. Although zoning already allows for housing, the legislation includes a range of code adjustments to slash barriers that hamper the conversion of underutilized downtown office buildings to housing.

Officials say changes could unlock thousands of new housing units over time and will create flexibility for the re-use of older office buildings by relaxing planning code requirement like rear yards, that don’t make sense for conversions of existing buildings in our dense, downtown core.

The legislation will create new paths to building and fire code compliance for adaptive reuse projects that would otherwise struggle to meet requirements designed for new ground-up construction projects.

Also, targeted zoning changes to allow additional flexibility for new and diversified uses and activities in Union Square.

“Recent retail closures are very disheartening and highlight the importance of legislation like this that meets the critical needs of a time when the entire retail landscape has changed nationwide,” said Marisa Rodriguez, CEO of the Union Square Alliance. “We welcome the Planning Commission’s endorsement today of this package of critical zoning changes in Union Square and the greater downtown that are forward looking, realistic and obtainable if we all work together in earnest.

“Collectively we can meet this moment and turn our city on an immediate path towards a healthy and sustainable rebound.”


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