Chinatown co-working space hopes to stay put, sends response to The City

Mike Koozmin/The S.F. ExaminerAfter members of the Chinatown Community Development Center on April 30 claimed 1920C violated retail zoning

Mike Koozmin/The S.F. ExaminerAfter members of the Chinatown Community Development Center on April 30 claimed 1920C violated retail zoning

The three women co-founders of 1920C, a new co-working space in Chinatown that drew opposition from an influential development nonprofit in the neighborhood, made a case Wednesday for their legality in a response to a notice of enforcement issued by the Planning Department.

Founders of the co-working space at 950 Grant Ave. had 15 days to respond to the April 28 notice citing a complaint alleging 1920C illegally converted the second-floor space from retail or commercial use to an administrative service, defined in the planning code as providing services exclusively to the business community.

After members of the Chinatown Community Development Center on April 30 claimed 1920C violated the corridor’s Chinatown visitor retail zoning, co-founder Jenny Chan, 24, sought advice from Supervisor Julie Christensen’s legislative aide Kanishka Burns, a former city planner.

Burns helped formulate an argument that 1920C is a professional service, defined in the planning code as “generally an office use, which provides professional services to the general public or to other businesses.”

In the response, reviewed by her attorney, Chan states 1920C is a professional service by providing public access to rent office equipment like printers, in addition to having Wi-Fi, and selling coffee.

The business also provides hourly, daily and monthly desk rentals, in addition to conference or event room space, without excluding anyone regardless of whether they’re a business.

Plus, the co-working space offers public workshops and marketing consultation. “We’re pretty confident that we should be OK because our competitors are coffee shops and Kinko’s,” Chan said.

Additionally, Chan claims 1920C is a retail service by allowing local artists to use the space as an art gallery with silent auctions. Co-working members also sell jewelry and their own products. The grand opening party, a popup event on May 1, brought local food and goods vendors.

As for a November 2012 building permit stating the second floor could contain two retail units, neither one exceeding 2,500 square feet, Chan said her nonprofit Pacific Atrocities Education, which brings awareness to what happened in Asia during World War II, is on the commercial lease along with 1920C, and that they split the 4,000 square feet total.

The Pacific Atrocities Education is an institution, like family associations on the upper floors of Chinatown buildings, that caters to residents by providing vital historical information and education, Chan said.

“I’m a bit nervous but we’re flexible to change our business model according to what planning needs it to be,” Chan said about her response. “A lot of the older neighbors said that this is an aging community that needs a younger generation like us to be in there. It’s really a community effort at this point.”

Zoning Administrator Scott Sanchez is tentatively expected to make a determination on 1920C’s legality by the end of next week, department spokeswoman Gina Simi said.

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