Commission OKs add-on to mansion of Chinese envoy

After citing the importance of San Francisco’s role on the international stage, Planning Commission members Thursday approved a controversial 5,348-square-foot addition to the residence of the consul general of China.

The 4-1 vote came after more than a year of negotiations between neighbors and Chinese diplomats over the shape and scope of the work, which is scheduled to add seven bedrooms to the 8,385-square-foot mansion.

“San Francisco is an international city,” commission member William Lee said. “The president [of China] could stay there … We should approve it.”

Steven Candy, the acting regional director of the State Department’s Office of Foreign Missions, last week urged commission members to approve the plans before they continued the matter. Candy was not available to comment Thursday.

Commission member Katherine Moore cast the single opposing vote.

Work can begin as long as the decision is not appealed to the Board of Supervisors.

Despite opposition from a handful of Monterey Heights neighbors, the commission’s decision quickly transformed interactions between diplomats and neighbors into friendly exchanges.

“We’re happy with the outcome. We will be a good neighbor,” said Zhu Weimin, deputy consul general for the People’s Republic of China. “We have learned a lot about our neighbor’s concerns.”

The addition will make way for staff — a chef, gardener and driver — to live at the residence, Weimin said. Plans include a 35-foot-tall, seven-bedroom add-on connected by a walkway to Consul General Peng Keyu’s home.

Dignitaries, such as China’s foreign minister, could also stay there, Weimin said.

Neighbor Peter Schweikhardt, who initially asked for additional conditions to be met before granting approval, later said it’s not a “calamity” that the construction got the green light.

Schweikhardt feared that city building inspectors would not be allowed onto the property when construction gets under way.

Diplomatic immunity renders consulates and consular homes exempt from many local rules and regulations.

Debra Stein, an attorney for the consulate, said city inspectors have been allowed on the 85 Elmo Way property.

mcarroll@examiner.com

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