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SF could ban (almost) all new office development in the Mission

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Expansion of former Lyft building was the final straw

Valencia Street in the Mission District.
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If the San Francisco Planning Commission has its way, the Mission District will soon be off limits to almost all new office development. It’s part of a campaign to push big-money business proposals out of areas that many at City Hall would rather see used for housing.

Commission members voted unanimously at Thursday’s online meeting to favor the rezoning plan put forth by Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who represents the Mission District on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

If enacted, the zoning changes would mean “all office uses are prohibited” in the neighborhood,” except that a “professional service, financial service, or medical service is allowed as a conditional use on the ground floor” in most cases.

Ronen introduced the potential changes after becoming incensed with a plan to expand 2300 Harrison, near 19th Street, a building formerly occupied by Lyft. That block, like the rest of the Mission, is zoned urban mixed-use (UMU), a classification aimed at promoting a blend of residential and business uses.

Developer 562 Mission’s plan does indeed mix housing with office development, but Ronen considered the balance of a mere 24 homes against 95,000 square feet of office as a cheat.

“What was not foreseen” at the time of the Mission’s zoning “was that today’s real estate market would make it impossible for other uses to compete” with the profitability of office space in modern San Francisco, Amy Beinart, Ronen’s aide, told commissioners before Thursday’s vote.

Ronen and Beinart argue that the only way for Mission District housing to win in development is to severely limit new office expansion. Planning commissioners agreed, although they scaled back Ronen’s original idea to also include Potrero Hill and Dogpatch in the rezoning bid.

A lawyer representing developers, who called into the meeting, noted that her clients feel singled out, saying it would be unfair to undercut a previously approved development.

Construction at 2300 Harrison is held up right now with appeals that are on hold because of the public health emergency, but a change in the site’s zoning could smother the building while it waits in limbo.

“Without grandfathering, this project is dead,” said Commissioner Sue Diamond. who agreed that previously approved buildings should be exempted from sudden changes to neighborhood zoning. The body amended the proposal to spare projects approved before February 11.

The unanimous thumbs up from the city’s planning body is not the finish line for Ronen though, as the Board of Supervisors must give final approval to the changes in the weeks ahead.