State inquires if SF violated housing law with height limit

Decision to downsize 19-unit project could make it unfeasible

MJ-SF Investments' James Nunemacher and rendering of 3862 18th Street, San Francisco (SIA Consulting, LinkedIn, Getty)
MJ-SF Investments' James Nunemacher and rendering of 3862 18th Street, San Francisco (SIA Consulting, LinkedIn, Getty)

A state housing agency said San Francisco may have violated the law by downsizing an eligible apartment project.

The state Department of Housing and Community Development issued a letter of concern over the city’s decision to downsize a 19-unit group housing project at 3832 18th Street in the Mission District before granting it conditional approval, the San Francisco Business Times reported.

It’s the second time the department has asked San Francisco to address a potential violation of state housing law. This second letter comes days after the state launched an unprecedented probe into San Francisco’s glacial project approval process.

The first notice last year said the agency was investigating whether the city’s Board of Supervisors had violated the Housing Accountability Act when it rejected two large housing projects at 450 O’Farrell St. and 469 Stevenson St.

The second notice pertains to a rejection of a proposed building height.

The San Francisco Planning Commission signed off on the 18th Street project last fall with the condition that developer MJ-SF Investments whittle down its height from six to five stories, a 10-foot reduction. The Board of Supervisors upheld the decision in March.

Though the redesign didn’t decrease the number of units, the state housing department said limiting its height could constitute “an effective denial” of the request for more density.

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It requested San Francisco explain “the legal justification and evidence” behind its decision by Sept. 11.

The Planning Commission ruling appears to have been a compromise with the project’s neighbors, who objected to replacing a single-family home with group housing. They said the size and layout of the project didn’t fit the character of the neighborhood.

A redesign forced San Francisco-based MJ-SF Investments to move two top-floor units to the ground floor, eliminate the home’s only kitchen, cut out a common room and reduce bicycle parking spaces from 25 to five.

The decision to shorten the project violated state housing law, Ryan Patterson, an attorney with Zacks Friedman & Patterson, told the board. He said doing away with common amenities such as the kitchen and bike storage would kneecap demand for units, rendering the project unfeasible.

Dan Sider, chief of staff for the city’s Planning Department, said the city had obeyed state law given that the project’s redesign from six to five stories preserved the number and size of the proposed units.

— Dana Bartholomew

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