The Westside is one step closer to raising the roof.
As a strategy to increase housing density, this summer Supervisor Joel Engardio proposed allowing six-story buildings on corner lots, and four units on single lots in better-resourced neighborhoods of San Francisco, including the Westside. On Thursday, the Planning Commission passed three amendments to tweak it and lowered a height limit on corner lots from 65 feet to 55 feet, with no density change.
The one amendment prevents oddly shaped lot mergers, another clarifies rear yard space, and the third, proposed by planning, requested larger lot mergers.
All three of the amendments modified legislation by Engardio that went into effect on Oct. 15 — one of several policies the Planning Commission must consider as San Francisco completes the ambitious task of creating some 82,000 homes over the next eight years.
Planners are zeroing in on the city’s well-resourced neighborhoods, which has historically avoided tall or dense buildings, to help fulfill that lofty goal.
As written, Engardio’s legislation enables single-family home lots to merge with other single-family lots, creating a larger lot where developers could build up to eight units. If three lots merge, a developer could build up to 12 units. If the lots are on corners, developers could build between 12 and 18 units.
Per Engardio’s vision, that will create Paris-like atmospheres in neighborhoods like the Sunset, where multiple stories of housing can sit atop a restaurant or cafe. The supervisor dubbed this vision “domesticity,” and said seniors in his district embraced the idea, because taller buildings can host elevators they may need as they age.
“When residents see what domesticity is, they like it,” Engardio said. “Domesticity keeps families together.”
The amendments, presented to the commission by Engardio, aim to increase density and help avoid through lots. They were passed 5-1.
The Planning Department suggested an amendment to allow not just single-family home lots to merge, but also those zoned for two, three or more homes. The commissioners agreed. “It just seems to make sense,” commission President Rachael Tanner said in response.
Additionally, the Planning Department had suggested two amendments to the law, including the ability to merge and build housing on larger residential lots, and permitting taller group housing on corner lots, the latter of which the commission rejected.
Little criticism was raised, save for questions about community input. Commissioner Kathrin Moore said she wished the changes applied exclusively to the Sunset or District 4 temporarily, arguing that the “one-size-fits-all” approach might not work for other neighborhoods. Commissioner Sue Diamond echoed that concern, and wondered if enough community engagement had been done in other affected areas in Districts 1, 2 and 8 that fall under the well-resourced neighborhood map.
Diamond added she had been “informally hearing” neighbors’ opposition to the aesthetics, specifically a concern that the westside’s typical 25-foot-tall homes would suddenly be near 65-foot buildings. “I have anxiety about how we make those structures fit in beside each other,” Diamond said.
Diamond also questioned the necessity of permitting 65-foot heights on corner lots if no retail businesses operates beneath the housing.
Engardio and some public commenters reminded the commission that tall buildings remain on corner lots, thus not becoming a “sore thumb” in the middle of a block and disrupting what many describe as neighborhood character.
But, ultimately, commissioners appeared to agree with Diamond’s apprehension and modified the height limit to 55 feet. Tanner said she believes that six units, which is outlined in the legislation for single corner lots, could still fit in a 55-foot building with ground-floor commercial. Engardio, seeking more support than less, agreed to the amendment after confirming a ground-floor amenity and elevators would still be possible with the reduced height.
The only amendment not approved was for group housing, a special type of housing that offers a dwelling unit with communal amenities. Several commissioners thought throwing in group housing “mixed” too many design concepts in one legislation, further complicating the proposal.
“Once people see this, they’ll say, ‘I want this,’” Engardio said.