Revisiting entertainment: new nightclubs, okay … new housing, not?

At this afternoon’s Planning Commission presentation of the Western SoMa Community Plan, it was suggested during public comment that the light  industrial zoning south of Harrison Street be extended into the 11th Street area because, under that new zoning category, entertainment would become a permitted use. The Task Force liberalized the zoning because new housing in the SALI (Service, Arts and Light Industrial) district would not be allowed.

That would be an interesting switcheroo. Housing, currently as-of-right, would suddenly find itself a non-permitted use and entertainment, grandfathered in as a legal, nonconforming use, would become a fully permitted use. The Planning Commissioners, often sympathetic to fun sounding notions — particularly if they are not personally impacted — might very well consider making the swap.

Why stop at 11th Street? South of Market already contains almost half the Place of Entertainment permits in the city. Does Folsom Street needs more too? What about other areas that have a high concentration of entertainment venues?

Of course, outlawing housing would be a pretty extreme step and the nonconforming status imposed on existing housing would wreak havoc with property values. The city might consider instead simply making new nightclubs a fully permitted use alongside the existing housing, although every application promises to be a pitched battle. That explains why there isn’t a long line of applicants agitating to open new nightclubs in an area that’s rapidly becoming much more residential.

Of course, if entertainment zoning is back on the table, stricter limits on the industry are also worth considering. Good planning is supposed to avoid creating any more conflict between incompatible uses. The SALI zoning introduces the concept of buffer zones to protect a few Residential Enclave Districts south of Harrison Street. In other areas, such as near senior housing, entertainment has proven to be completely inappropriate. The conflicts between housing and nighttime entertainment run deep in some parts of SoMa. Are you ready for another neighbor/nightclub war?

Many of you participated in the public process which helped to create the Western SoMa Community Plan. You attended many meetings of the Arts and Entertainment Focus Group, which met for more than a year. Others spoke up at the three town hall meetings we held at Bessie Carmichael School. That’s where the rough outlines of the current recommendations came from. You might have thought that this issue was settled.

Besides the three town halls, the Task Force listened and discussed this as an agenda item 41 times at various committee meetings and voted on changes to the existing controls at 22 meetings of the full Task Force. It’s not as if we haven’t given this lots of attention. The Task Force ultimately decided to recommend that we (1) leave entertainment as a legal, non-conforming use in the mixed-use neighborhoods north of Harrison Street, (2) change the zoning south of Harrison Street to make all forms of Place of Entertainment a fully permitted use, (3) allow the non-conforming status that every existing venue holds to remain with the property for a reasonable length of time following demolition of the building so that it could be built into new construction, and (4) create an accessory entertainment permit that would be allowed in the Folsom Street Neighborhood Commercial District. This seemed to be a reasonable compromise.

“Revisiting entertainment” will be the theme at next week’s SoMa Leadership Council. If you care strongly about the subject, one way or another, don’t miss this meeting.

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1 Comment

Filed under art, community services, entertainment, meetings, planning, politics, quality of life

One response to “Revisiting entertainment: new nightclubs, okay … new housing, not?

  1. Concerned

    Very good points Jim.

    Fundamentally the question is, how is it that the residents of SOMA are asked to live as second class citizens, at a different standard than other City residents? The response should never be in the form of a question like, “why did you move here to begin with” or “if you don’t like it move to Walnut Creek”. In my neighborhood we have every type of residential occupant, from 40 year renters to new homeowners, native San Franciscans even!

    SOMA is a fantastic community of communities, of peoples, of businesses. Nobody wants to “kill fun” as the club owners mantra goes, but honestly the Planning Commission is way out of touch with the feelings and lives of people living here, in particular BEFORE the clubs ever came here.

    There is a very long history of residential land use in SOMA. Since before the 1906 Fire and Earthquake and SOMA was perhaps the first residential area of the City, merely examine the old Sanborn Maps.

    Not wanting to ramble too much, what can we do to make sure we can continue to enjoy a vibrant, diverse and inclusive community not overrun by clubs? Don’t get me wrong, all businesses are welcome but they have to be good neighbors and take responsibility for their products or clients.

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