Mission District project helps proposed SF legislation limit office space


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San Francisco supervisor Hillary Ronen is working on pushing legislation to encourage developers to build housing instead of office space in the city’s eastern neighborhoods. The skyrocketing commercial rents have made tech offices the most financially lucrative real estate development sector.

As reported in the San Francisco Chronicle, under the legislation that Ronen would introduce soon, the development of new upper-floor office space would be banned in parts of the Mission District, Potrero Hill and Dogpatch.

“The crisis we have in the city and in the Mission is housing, especially affordable housing,” Ronen said. “We don’t have an office space crisis.”

The law applies to neighborhoods zoned “mixed-use-urban,” which is intended to create a buffer between residential neighborhoods and industrial areas. Developers would still be able to create ground-floor office spaces.

The legislation was partially motivated by a proposed development at 2300 Harrison St. in the Mission, where the property owner wants to add 24 housing units and 27,000 square feet of office space to an existing office building. The six-story addition, built on a surface parking lot, would create a 95,000-square-foot office building with 24 apartments, six of which would be affordable. Without the new office space, the parking lot at 2300 Harrison would create nearly 80 apartments.

Critics of the Harrison Street project didn’t like that the builder is looking to take advantage of a state density bonus laws, which allows developers increased height in exchange for making some housing units affordable.

“We are seeing examples of projects exploiting state density bonus laws by building a tiny amount of housing in order to get more of what turns the biggest profit, which is office space,” Ronen said. “Our zoning should reflect what we need as a city, not what turns the highest profit.”

Carlos Bocanegra, an attorney with United to Save the Mission, appealed the 2300 Harrison project. He said gentrification pressures in the Mission mostly come from the influx of high-income earners and that the Harrison Street project would add to the problem.

“This is an office project that treats housing as an afterthought,” he said. “You will have 700 upscale, high-income earners coming into the neighborhood and just 20 market-rate units to house them.”

Tuija Catalano, an attorney for the developer, said the project includes six affordable units, three of which would be affordable to people making $43,000 to $68,000 a year. The project would also pay $3.6 million in fees of which some would go toward affordable housing.

Critics say that developers rather build office space because local officials have made it so challenging and expensive to build housing.

Rather than putting up barriers to commercial development, the city should focus on making it easier, cheaper and faster to build housing throughout the city, said Laura Foote, executive director of YIMBY Action,

“Every week the Board of Supervisors pass laws making it harder and harder to build housing all over the city,” Foote said. “Disincentivizing office development is missing the point.”

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