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SoMa Project Goes Back to the Drawing Board to Add a Rear Yard

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Land use economists Gruen Gruen + Associates have been planning for a couple years now to build up their two-story SoMa building at 564 Howard. After a huge upgrade, the building would become a 10-story mixed-use building with eight stories of residences capped off with a rooftop garden — a building "where you will be able to take the elevator to work." The project sought approval at the Planning Commission last night for the second time in as many months, but GG+A, along with FME Architecture + Design, had to walk away with another postponement due to commissioners' concerns with how "tight" it is between the building and an adjacent bus onramp, and the fact that it doesn't have any ground-level open space. One commissioner said of the narrow gap between building and ramp: it's "too tight to make sense for me," but the project team defended it, saying it's "twice the amount of space" in places as the gap between Soma Grand and Trinity Place.

In the end, however, it was a planning code requirement for "rear yard" space that sent the project team home. Though the commission has tweaked such requirements in the past in favor of courtyard spaces and the like, they said they were feeling really iffy about killing the requirement altogether. But the project team noted that not a single building on that block, between Howard and Natoma, had a rear yard — the buildings are all flush with their respective lot lines — and putting an open space on this one project would make it look "weird." Given that, the above renderings are likely becoming rapidly out of date, as the firm now needs to work with FME to bake a backyard into the project. The redesign (or not!) should come in a couple months.

564 Howard St., San Francisco, CA