Supervisors approve Western SoMa Plan, rejecting expanded office development

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The Board of Supervisors today approved the Western South of Market Community Plan, the first step to ending a development moratorium that has been in place since the citizen-based planning process that developed the plan began in 2005, but not before some supervisors made a last-ditch effort to allow more office development and nightlife.

“I have real concerns over the plan,” Sup. Scott Wiener said as the plan came before the full board for the first time, continuing an effort to modify the plan that he began a few weeks ago when it was before the Land Use and Economic Development Committee.

While some of Wiener's colleagues echoed his concerns and those raised by the business and entertainment communities, most decided to defer to the area's Sup. Jane Kim and the Western SoMa Task Force that developed the plan. It was approved on a 10-1 vote, with Wiener in dissent. It will guide development and set land use rules for the Western SoMa area after being approved on second reading by the board next week.

Wiener led the critique of the plan's restrictions on office development in most of the plan area, particularly around the transit hub of 4th and King streets, concerns that were echoed by Sups. London Breed and Malia Cohen, likely indicating that the business community has been lobbying supervisors on the issue.

But Kim said she is concerned about the area's artists, nonprofits, and light industrial businesses – dubbed Production Distribution and Repair (PDR) in the city planning code – being squeezed out if the area is opened up to more office development.

“Office space is hot right now and it's pushing out PDR uses,” Kim said. “Zoning is an importance tool, otherwise everything will turn into offices in South of Market.”

Wiener, Breed, and other supervisors also sounded their support for the entertainment community that has lobbied for changes in the plan, winning greater protections for nightlife at earlier hearings – including a ban on residential development on the raucous 300 block of 11th Street and persuading owners of “the purple building” to switch from residential to office – pushing for removal of more of the plan's restrictions on attaining limited live music permits.

“I also have some real concerns with how the plan treats nightlife and entertainment,” Wiener said, while Breed said, “As a big supporter of the arts, I'm concerned there are limited live performances in the plan.”

Kim noted that the plan tried to strike a balance in the conflict between nightlife and housing, and she said that expanding the ability business in areas zoned Regional Commercial District (RCD) shouldn't be done in just in a part of town where there conflicts have often been difficult to resolve.

“If you're going to permit it in the RCD areas, it should be citywide rather than just in Western SoMa,” Kim said, noting that she's open to futher discussions after the plan is approved.

Sup. David Campos and other supervisors urged their colleagues not to tinker with the compromises and hard-won balance in the plan. “I'm not 100 percent happy with every aspect of the plan, but I do think some deference should be given to the district supervisor,” Campos said.

Wiener agreed that deference to the desires of district supervisors is an important consideration, “but there are times when this board does not vote the same as their supervisors,” citing as an example the board's approval of the controversial 8 Washington luxury condo project over the objections of Board President David Chiu.

Afterward, Terrence Alan of the California Music and Culture Association, which had lobbied for expanded protections of nightlife, told us, “Entertainment as a whole fared well.” But he said that they would continue pushing for greater citywide nightlife protections, including supporting Wiener's proposal to expand the limited live music permits to include DJs.

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