Busted! Planning Department breaks the rules on conversion of light industrial space to office uses

by JIM MEKO

In her latest land use analysis, former Berkeley Planning Commission Chair Zelda Bronstein tears into our Planning Department’s thin veil of excuses for allowing office space where it is currently illegal. “Why SF City Planning can’t protect local industry from office encroachment: An alarming case study,” appeared on Tim Redmond’s 48 Hills website last week. 

The central operating thesis seems to be that if some high tech office space is a good thing, shouldn’t an immense amount of such space be even better? Our Planning Department tends to always look backwards to the last best thing. The Planning Commission is beginning to push back.

An attempt to ram through the conversion of 660 Third Street by conservative mayoral appointee Michael Antonini failed to even get a second, prompting a lengthy discussion at the May 1 hearing of the San Francisco Planning Commission of the Department’s commitment to the preservation of light industrial jobs.

The SLI zoning district (Service and Light Industrial) where the project is located “is designed to protect and facilitate the expansion of existing general commercial, manufacturing, home and business service live/work use, arts uses, light industrial activities and small design professional office firms….General office uses…are not permitted.” Planning Department staff has been recommending wholesale exemptions from these rules on the grounds that high end office use is the only way to preserve these historic properties.

This might make sense if light industrial uses (they like to call them PDR, which stand for production, distribution and repair) were a dying sector of the economy, but planners just testified that this is one of the healthiest developments in the city’s economy and that we’re losing businesses to surrounding communities because of the lack of available space.

Our Planning Department recently supported legislation by Supervisor Malia Cohen that would encourage the construction of new space in this same neighborhood of buildings that could include as much as two-thirds office space in order to provide more space for PDR.

660 Third Street would result in the loss of 80,000 square feet of PDR-zoned space (although the building’s owners long ago illegally converted it to office space) and with the possible conversion of some Showplace Square properties heading to the Planning Commission that are already evicting light industrial tenants, we will have lost a total of 533,700 square feet of PDR space under the tutelage of Planning Director John Rahaim.

In private conversations, several Planning Commissioners expressed shock at Bronstein’s analysis. “She just calmly and methodically went through the issues and the code and made sense out of it all,” one said. “That’s what our department is supposed to do and they haven’t done it yet to my satisfaction.”

660 Third Street returns to the Planning Commission on June 12.

To read the entire article, go to http://48hillsonline.org/2014/05/29/sf-city-planning-cant-protect-local-industry-office-encroachment-alarming-case-study/#more-1483.

 

 

 

 

 

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