News & Research Archive

Planning Commission Approves Western SoMa Plan with Changes

Dec 20, 2012

On December 6, 2012, the Planning Commission voted 7-0 to adopt the Western SoMa Plan. The Plan was approved with certain changes discussed below.

Of most significance to owners and developers, the Commissioners voted to create a new "Western SoMa Mixed Use - Office District ("WMUO)" along and around Townsend Street. WMUO encourages office uses, small-scale light industrial and arts activities; allows nighttime entertainment; and prohibits new residential uses. This area is just north of the Caltrans station, along many MUNI lines, and the location of the new 4th subway line. This change is consistent with the City's direction to create density and locate office uses along main transit lines to encourage public transit use and discourage commuting by car. Commissioners voted to grandfather a 24 unit residential project at 340 11th Street while rejecting requests to grandfather other projects in the pipeline.

Also of great significance, the Commission voted to allow more flexibility in uses within historic buildings within most Western SoMa zoning districts. Currently, many such buildings are located in zoning districts that do not allow office space. The change now allows office space in such districts as long as a building is either (1) individually eligible for the California or National Register; or (2) already on such Registers; or (3) qualified under Article 10 of the Planning Code as a City Landmark; or (4) currently designated in Article 11 of the Planning Code as Category I-IV. This exception to the zoning to allow offices is slightly narrower than a similar one existing today in the so-called Eastern Neighborhoods: in those zones, buildings that are eligible to be called "contributory" to an historic district also get the benefit.

Commissioners also voted to rezone a portion of 11th Street between Harrison and Folsom Streets (and two lots across Folsom) to (WMUO). In addition to allowing office, this change will allow existing nighttime entertainment uses in this area to continue and to allow new ones, although no new ones can be established within 200 feet of a Residential Enclave District (RED). The Plan also allows current entertainment uses which are demolished to be rebuilt as entertainment uses, even if they are in districts that no longer allow this use.

The Plan also creates the Folsom Street Neighborhood Commercial Transit District (Folsom NCT) which supports residential and neighborhood serving retail and other commercial uses, and a Regional Commercial District (RCD). The latter applies to 9th and 10th Streets and allows larger scale uses which will accommodate the many furniture stores and other regionally focused retail in the area. A Service Arts and Light Industrial Zoning District (SALI) south of Harrison will prohibit new offices (even in historic buildings) but will allow new large entertainment venues and limited live performance venues.

By a 4-3 vote, the Commission recommended that the Planning Department explore creating a process to allow legalization of office use in the limited locations where it has been legal before the Plan passage, so that owners who may not have ever obtained alteration permits legalizing the space as "office" can do so now. A similar legalization program, known as "amnesty" or "legitimization", was in effect for the areas within the Eastern Neighborhood Plan and that amnesty period was in effect for three years after that Plan adoption.

The legislation now moves to the Board of Supervisors for approval, and some tinkering by the district's Supervisor Jane Kim may occur. It is anticipated that the Mayor will sign thereafter.

Should you have any questions on this, please feel free to contact Brett Gladstone Esq. or Susanne Kelly Esq. at (415) 434-9500 or by email to:

M. Brett Gladstone

  • B.A. 1980 Harvard University, Magna Cum Laude
  • J.D. 1983, Duke University
  • Member, Lambda Alpha Society
  • Member, SPUR
  • Board of Directors, Museum of San Francisco at the Mint

Susanne B. Kelly

  • B.S. 1994 Santa Clara University
  • J.D. 1997 University of San Francisco School of Law
  • State Bar, Real Property Section Member

Melissa L. Vancrum

  • B.S. Business 1997 University of Kansas
  • Master Urban Planning 2011 University of Kansas
  • J.D. 2011 University of Kansas
  • Bar Association of the City of San Francisco, Real Property Section Member

Disclaimer: This newsletter is not a substitute for legal advice and, since the facts of all matters differ, readers are cautioned not to take actions without seeking the advice of a real estate attorney. The issues discussed in this newsletter are not intended to be legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is established with the recipient. Readers should consult with legal counsel before relying on any of the information contained herein.


Written by: M. Brett Gladstone


Starboard TCN is posting this article on its website and blog with the approval of Brett Gladstone Esq.

This is a periodic newsletter from the law firm of Gladstone & Associates, San Francisco, a real estate transactions and land use firm providing commentary on new land use trends in San Francisco.

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