Jake McGoldrick: Benefits of Zoning

In February, after many months of discussions with community stakeholders, I introduced an ordinance that addresses a challenging problem for city policy-makers, developers and residents of our neighborhoods. Increasingly, developers are asking the SF Planning Commission and the SF Board of Supervisors to allow them to exceed the density and height limits allowed under current zoning. Often, these projects are in areas undergoing comprehensive, community-based planning efforts that include rezoning the area.

For example, in January the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors gave approval to very large projects on Rincon Hill that greatly exceeded the densities and heights allowed under the zoning in place for that area. The project came before the board after repeated delays in completion of a Rincon Hill area rezoning plan. We have faced many similar individual projects seeking exceptions to zoning limits while area planning efforts were in progress.

The Public Benefits Incentive Zoning ordinance would replace this piecemeal approach with predictable and systematic development standards for such projects. Public Benefits Incentive Zoning (PBIZ) would give developers incentives to build good housing, while recognizing the need to preserve the cultural and economic diversity of San Francisco's neighborhoods. PBIZ would also ensure that new development contributes to creating complete, vibrant and healthy neighborhoods. It would create a more predictable real estate environment by making clear the terms on which density "bonuses" would be permitted.

PBIZ would replace the current permissive zoning in many districts, which has fueled a speculative real estate market and created uncertainty for businesses and communities. In addition, PBIZ will supersede fickle "spot zoning" and planned unit developments (PUDs), which are granted on a site-by-site basis and effectively increase land values without a clear public benefit requirement.

Moreover, since the PBIZ concept was born out of community planning processes, not only will new development better address public benefit goals but developers will also have greater certainty that their projects will receive important community support.

This ordinance would apply to developers requesting density or height increases above what is allowed under current zoning. PBIZ would create a framework for allowing increased density and/or increased height to be granted to a development site under certain circumstances. When a variance or rezoning (such as a "Special Use District") is requested by a developer, a new maximum development "envelope" for the lot would be determined, taking into account good design and sunlight issues.

If the developer wishes to build to this new, larger, maximum project size, PBIZ would require them to provide a public benefit in proportion to the additional floor area they receive. Public benefits would come from the following menu of options: affordable housing, preferably family-sized homes or senior homes, for-sale or rental; community-serving spaces, such as libraries or meeting rooms; public open space; or light industrial (production, distribution and repair) spaces, where appropriate.

Public Benefits Incentive Zoning provides a stark contrast to other recent efforts that would encourage development by offering density bonuses to developers. While PBIZ similarly creates a mechanism for allowing density and height bonuses, it includes four fundamental provisions that ensure it serves communities and neighborhoods, and not just developers: 1) PBIZ is being developed through a process of public discussions and consultations with supervisors, the SF Planning Department and the affected neighborhoods; 2) PBIZ gives precedence to local community planning processes, like the Better Neighborhoods program, to establish appropriate zoning and development standards; 3) PBIZ serves a range of low- to moderate-income residents who need housing that is affordable, both rental and homeownership; and 4) PBIZ is based on the principle that it takes more than housing to build a healthy, balanced neighborhood.

This legislation promotes a win-win approach to foster good development for San Francisco. By forging a private/public partnership vision, we can offer private developers economic incentives and create the means to provide public benefits that will make their development more successful.

I look forward to a dynamic community dialogue with all stakeholders contributing their ideas and visions for the future of San Francisco.

Next Town Hall Meeting
I want to invite you to our next District 1 T own Hall Meeting to be held on Saturday, March 20, from 10 a.m. to noon, at the Richmond Recreation Center, 251 18th Ave., between Clement and California streets. The meeting will focus on public safety issues in District 1. We have invited our new chief of police, Heather Fong, to join us and share her vision for keeping our community safe and secure. I hope you will join us.

Jake McGoldrick is a San Francisco supervisor representing District 1.