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Housing potential increasing along Fillmore and Divisadero streets

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Fillmore Street on Friday, June 26, 2015. (Michael Ares/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Amid San Francisco’s housing crisis, there are ribbon cuttings when long awaited below-market-rate projects come online and political feuds over controversial initiatives forwarded in the name of affordability.

But planning rule changes to create more housing can often escape notice.

Cramming more people into buildings along San Francisco’s prized Fillmore and Divisadero corridors is one of these rule changes.

Today, the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee will vote on a proposal to impose leniency around housing density along nine blocks of Fillmore Street and 12 blocks of Divisadero Street by making them Neighborhood Commercial Transit Districts.
That means no longer would the number of units be dictated by parcel size, but instead by other requirements such as height, open space and setbacks.

Such districts were created in other locations in San Francisco beginning in 2007, like SoMa, Mission Street, Ocean Avenue and Glenn Park.

The proposal was unanimously approved by the Planning Commission in April. That meeting had all the hallmarks of San Francisco housing discussions under current real estate conditions of rents continuing to escalate along with the demand.

“This legislation is one small measure to address the housing affordability crisis. The City doesn’t have any more land so we must accommodate more housing in the existing urban fabric without negatively impacting the historic neighborhoods, which is what this does,” said Conor Johnston, legislative aide to board president London Breed, who introduced the legislation.

But some residents in the area came out to oppose the legislation. Some expressed fears in general about the changing neighborhood with regard to points that at times were unrelated to the specific proposal.

Others called for relaxing housing limits even further. “I don’t know why we wouldn’t have taller buildings on Divisadero to house more and more people,” said Michael Smithwick, a nearby resident.

Residents like Claudia Sagan said the area is already too dense. “In the last five years alone it’s dramatic how the foot traffic and the vehicular traffic have increased.”

One of the conditions of the added density is that newly built buildings with five or more units must provide at least 40 percent of units as two bedrooms or 30 percent three bedrooms. An existing unit in a building can only be divided if it exceeds 2,000 square feet or has more than three bedrooms. At least one of the resulting divided units must have two bedrooms and be 1,250 square feet.

Ed Yates, who owns property in the Fillmore area, said that the proposal would do little to nothing to reduce housing costs for lower income residents. “Who is going to live there? Is that going to be middle-income African American families? I don’t think so. Middle income anybody, I don’t think so. It’s going to be young people that work at Genentech, Google and Yahoo. That’s the reality.”

Planning Commissioner Rich Hillis called it a “modest proposal” to gain “some extra units” in a neighborhood not “seeing the type of development that you see in the Mission or the eastern neighborhoods.”

Long-time Planning Commissioner Michael Antonini said that as the population grows, The City has to create more housing. “They will compete for existing housing stock. They will just come and pay increasingly more for what exists. This idea to try and increase density is a good idea if it’s done carefully,” Antonini said.

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