Codebreakers: The City Attempts to Streamline Its Epic Planning Rules. Hilarity Ensues.

By Joe Eskenazi : sfweekly – excerpt

The Planning Department’s ongoing effort to condense the codes governing building and development in this city has spanned 18 months. So far. The overall goal, says city planner Aaron Starr, is “to make it easier to use.” A new, user-friendly document weighs in at a svelte 468 pages. This is merely the ordinance amending the actual Planning Code, which stretches to nearly three times that length.

“Easier” is a relative term.

Concerned neighborhood groups, who exist in a perpetual state of concern, are concerned about who, exactly, will have it “easier.” A consortium raised red flags and marched into last week’s Planning Commission meeting with grave concerns over a specific clause within the 468 pages of arcana…

Stoking neighborhood groups’ fears was language they interpreted to shift conversion of a structure into student housing from a feat requiring a “conditional use” hearing to an activity that was “principally permitted.” The pernicious specter of sweeping up ever more American Spirit butts from one’s stoop sent a shudder through the neighborhood activists’ collective spine.

How surprised they were to learn, on the cusp of last week’s Planning Commission meeting, that the language in question regarding student housing wasn’t new at all — but codified via city ordinance all the way back in 2012. “It slipped through,” bemoans neighborhood activist Doug Engmann, a former Planning Commission president.

And yet, claims Starr, the Academy of Art still cannot legally infiltrate your neighborhood: Language in other sections of the nebulous Planning Code expressly forbids conversions of residential units into student housing. There is one caveat, he notes: An educational institution could indeed purchase an apartment and convert it into student housing — if it serves as a convent…

Engmann worries the city’s efforts to render the Planning Code less confusing have actually had the opposite effect. Starr disagrees. Cantankerous neighborhood activists, he says, “are finally able to see what is permitted in their neighborhoods. … And they may not be happy.”

No, they may not be.

“So, in that respect,” Starr says, “It’s a success already.”… (more)

 

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