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How the city plans to add 25,000 people to Central SoMa

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Get ready for the Central Subway area to get taller

Sunset over the SoMa neighborhood Approximate Aberration

With the new Central Subway extension coming through, city planners have their eye on the future of Central SoMa.

The proposed Central SoMa plan defines that neighborhood as the 17 or so blocks in the area west of Second Street, east of Sixth, north of Townsend, and south of Folsom or Howard (depending on the block).

As California law demands, the Planning Department released a Draft Environmental Impact Report to the public this week so that everybody with a stake in the neighborhood can have their say.

(Although since the report is 700 pages long, we decided it would be considerate to do the reading for you.)

SF Planning
SF Planning

Along with a raft of transit and street layout changes, the most significant effect of the proposal should sound familiar: The neighborhood will be getting taller.

North of Harrison Street, height limits between Second and Third would jump from 130 feet to 200. South of Harrison would go from 85 feet to a whopping 350.

And blocks south of Bryant and between Fourth and Sixth would shoot from 85 to 400 feet.

The draft EIR estimates that the Central SoMa plan would add more than 25,000 people to the neighborhood by 2040.

It also points out that even if we do nothing, about 16,300 people are expected to settle their anyway, with the remainder packing into other neighborhoods.

If we do nothing, about 17.7 million square feet of housing will probably sprout near the incoming Central Subway. The zoning changes in the percolating plan could increase that to as much as 31.7 million.

The neighborhood today.
And as it might appear under the Central SoMa Plan.

Particularly of note: “The Plan’s proposed height districts take into consideration the State’s affordable housing density bonus.

So even with the possibility of emboldened developers collecting more state-mandated bonus units in the future, at least this one neighborhood will have accounted for it already.

The EIR does highlight some potential problems with the whole affair—most notably that “increased traffic noise is significant and may be unavoidable.”

In fact, if this plan has an Achilles Heel it may be transportation, despite being built around a subway expansion. The draft notes that increasing density couldn’t help but hamper Muni and other specialized traffic, like deliveries.

The view today.
And as it might appear.

Also of note, the report acknowledges that “the Central SoMa Plan would provide some relief to the city’s housing market pressures.”

But it adds, “What effect development would have on housing affordability is a matter of considerable controversy. While the high cost of housing and limited supply of affordable housing [displace] lower-income residents in the city, opinions differ on the underlying causes.”

Do you think environmental review officers get special training in tactful understatement?

The city has also fielded several smaller, less dense alternatives. But even the best of them “would result in fewer additional households,” usually by a margin of ten to 14 percent.

The Planning Commission’s public hearing on the EIR is set for January 26.