SF Planning Commission chooses laundry over housing

Recent change to the city’s planning code gives apartment laundry rooms added protections


It’s a clean sweep.

The San Francisco Planning Commission unanimously approved measures to save the city’s dwindling number of laundry rooms and laundromats, making it more difficult for owners to add accessory dwelling units to some ground-floor locations, according to Hoodline.

The city passed an ordinance in 2016 to make it easier to add ADUs and increase badly needed housing. Yet they have often been built in apartment buildings with ground-floor spaces that previously housed either laundry rooms or commercial laundromats.

With the added protections, owners would need a special permit to replace a commercial laundromat on their property with any other use or demolish a laundry room to make way for an ADU. In the case of ADU conversions, the landlord would also need to add the same number of washers and dryers elsewhere in the building. ADUs that don’t comply won’t be approved.

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The change was sponsored by Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who represents Russian Hill, after the commission denied a September 2020 request from a property owner in that neighborhood to turn two commercial ground-floor spaces, one of which was a laundromat, into ADUs. One-third of “neighborhood-serving” laundromats have closed in the last eight years, according to data presented to the commission, creating difficulties for seniors and “those that are not as able-bodied.” Even for able-bodied people, walking further or taking the bus with a heavy sack of laundry is an added burden, the report said.

But the report also said that “requiring Conditional Use Authorizations for the change of use or removal of Laundromats is not the most effective tool to prevent their closure.” It can’t force a failing laundromat to stay open and might even disincentivize landlords to sign new leases with laundromats.

Therefore, the legislation has a three-year sunset clause to give the city time to “investigate financial incentives or other regulatory tools that can help ensure all San Franciscans have convenient access to laundry facilities.”

[Hoodline] — Emily Landes

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