Readers may recall a December SF Weekly article about the surreal city rules builders exploit to blow up small homes into mansions, and blow away what's left of San Francisco's dwindling affordable housing stock.
That article turned out to be Exhibit 17 in a hearing last night at the Board of Appeals.
At issue was a central example cited in our December article: a home at 125 Crown Terrace owned by developer, former Building Inspection Commission president, and Port Commissioner to-be Mel Murphy. He hopes to "remodel" it from 854-square feet to 5,139 square feet; previously, Murphy had been denied a demolition permit when he only hoped to expand to 4,019 square feet.
The complaint, pushed by Murphy's next-door neighbor Ramona Albright, involved gripes about blocked views and felled trees of the sort you'd expect in an upscale enclave like Twin Peaks. But it also brought into question the city's reading of a statute that allows savvy builders to demolish the very elements of a building they retained to avoid being classified as a demolition.
See Also: Bringing Down the Housing: How Builders Game the System
Section 317 of the city's Planning Code wasn't meant to be a means for allowing starter homes to be repurposed into mansions. But multiple claims were made before the Board of Appeals last night that this is just what is happening.
"We tried to insert honesty and integrity into the Planning Code," said former Supervisor Jake McGoldrick. Faced with middle-class families' flight from the city and a history of modest homes being de-facto demolished to make way for much larger ones, "We wrote Section 317 to attempt to get a handle on this thing."
The clause in question allows a builder who discovers dry rot or some other problem within a structure to replace walls or other elements without triggering a demolition. Under the Planning Department's current interpretation, however, the "repair and maintenance" clause could allow a builder to remove a wall that's perfectly suitable for a smaller structure -- but would need to be brought up to code to support a far larger structure on the site. This opens up the possibility to remove and replace the portions of a building you're supposedly maintaining and completely tear down a building you're ostensibly only "remodeling."
From our December story:
Asked if it's possible to level a building, construct a new one, and define this as an "alteration" or "remodel," 125 Crown Terrace designer Drake Gardner confirms it is. "But you can't do it all at once," he says. "You'd have to do it piecemeal. ... They've got codes that overlap and cross each other. So you try to fish through it all, get it approved, build it -- and then not get in trouble with the inspector for taking out more than you designated you were going to."