673 Brussels
This isn’t a case of neighbors objecting while those outside the neighborhood with a vested interest in the project make up the majority of support. It isn’t a case of alleged willful neglect in order to circumvent a needed demolition permit. And it isn’t a case of speculative development in somebody else’s backyard.
No, this is a case of 21 letters from neighbors in support of the project without a single voice opposed. It’s a case of children being overwhelmed while trying to manage their deceased parents’ long-time family home. And it’s a case of a family wanting to replace their outdated single-family home with another they plan to occupy themselves.
673 Brussels as proposed
All that being said, the Planning Department recommends the Planning Commission disapprove the application to demolish and rebuild 673 Brussels Street. The basis for the Planning Department’s recommendation:

1. The Project will not result in a net gain of dwelling-units.

2. The condition of the existing building was a result of deferred maintenance.

3. The existing housing stock is the Cityʹs major source of relatively affordable housing. It is very difficult to replace given the cost of new construction. Priority should be given to the retention of existing units as a primary means to provide affordable housing.

And while we’re at a loss for words, or perhaps tongue tied by a choice few too many, we can only hope the Planning Commission manages but one on Thursday: approved.
The “Resourceful” Demolition Of A Historic Resource? (1268 Lombard) [SocketSite]
The Vanguards Of Development For 35 Lloyd [SocketSite]
Discretionary Review Analysis: 673 Brussels Street [sf-planning.org]

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Comments from “Plugged-In” Readers

  1. Posted by sfrenegade

    So if I understand correctly, the commission is saying we should have poor quality housing stock so that more people can afford to live in it? Seriously?
    Mind you, the commission also ensures that the cost of new construction remains high, so they really shouldn’t be complaining about it.

  2. Posted by curmudgeon

    It’s actually the Department, not the Commission…which is actually scarier in some ways. There are many staffers at the Department who are fond of this kind of back-asswards social engineering. Let’s hope the Commission doesn’t follow their advice

  3. Posted by BG

    renegade, right on. they complain about the supply of housing and yet do nothing to help the problem.
    the house was built in 1908 so these morons at the planning department immediately assume its “historical”
    [Editor's Note: No need for name calling, and as outlined above, the objections have nothing to do with a "historical" designation. In fact, if you follow the link above you'll note "The project proposes to demolish a structure built in 1908, however it has been determined by preservation staff that a Landmark or historic building does not occupy the Project site."]

  4. Posted by eddy

    yeah, but how many of those neighbors are really vanguard agents? ;)
    Seriously, if this gets denied, I’ll be one word too, “Speechless”

  5. Posted by sfrenegade

    Btw, is there any reason to suspect redlining here? Would this be allowed in a tonier neighborhood than the Portola?
    They should ask in the alternative to get the zoning changed to RH-2 just to call their bluff. “Fine, we’ll build a duplex.”

  6. Posted by BobN

    3. The existing housing stock is the Cityʹs major source of relatively affordable housing. It is very difficult to replace given the cost of new construction. Priority should be given to the retention of existing units as a primary means to provide affordable housing.
    The unit in this case IS retained. Not only that but it gets one more bedroom (three, one more than the previous two).
    This objection makes no sense whatsoever.

  7. Posted by BobN

    The Department seems to think this building could be completely rehabilitated for $83K, including a new foundation while the building sits on cribs. That works out to about $90/sq ft for a building that has holes in the roof and a drifting (apparently in opposite directions) foundation.
    Where do they get these “estimates”?

  8. Posted by djt

    One thing that people in government and public comissions forget is that decisions should add to the trust and respect for the governing body itself. To make such a stupid decision destroys the very credibility they need to function. Witness the Citizens United decision by the supreme court.
    I recall there being a movement to rename Jefferson Elementary in Berkeley after, I believe, a native American. Yes, it might improve the self esteem of the 127 native american children in Berkeley, but it gives fodder to Limbaugh and company and ultimately hurts the very people it is imagined to help.

  9. Posted by Jimmy (No Longer Bitter)

    All in all, the proposed new house is pretty modest. Perhaps adding an in-law unit behind the garage would placate the commission?
    The obvious next step, if their plans are rejected, is to open up holes in the roof, open all the windows and all the doors to the elements. It should take less than 5 years for the building to completely collapse given its advanced age and current state of disrepair.

  10. Posted by sfrenegade

    “The obvious next step, if their plans are rejected, is to open up holes in the roof, open all the windows and all the doors to the elements.”
    That’s why #2 is such an offensive charge. It’s not because the heirs deferred the maintenance, but rather that mom and/or dad deferred the maintenance. Common thing for grandma’s house, especially with Prop 13.
    Not that I buy into these types of arguments generally, but the distributive justice here is absurd too. From what it sounds like above, if this had been in Pac Heights, the department would say that this wasn’t meant to be affordable housing because it’s in Pac Heights, so they could tear it down. But because this is the Portola, no dice. Sucks to be the working class, right?
    They should have proposed a 4 story duplex monstrosity built from the studs, apparently, and then “scaled back” to what they’re doing now. The planning department is a joke.

  11. Posted by EH

    If we could get perpetual Planning denials on properties that have been allowed to fall into disrepair, the entire tear-down RE economy would collapse. There are tons of owners waiting out the market, or their lives, or whatever (I’m convinced that land ownership in SF makes one crazy). That is, housing intentionally left empty and unmaintained. I smell some eminent domain a brewin’!

  12. Posted by xyz

    This is an example of the infiltration of progressive politics at the planning department. There was some law passed in the past few years (can’t remember which one) that basically limited the ability of homeowners to convert a multi-unit house back to a SFH or to demolish or in any way remove existing housing in the name of affordability.
    This house is just an example of a blanket application of planning policy to a property with no consideration of the specifics. I’ve seen other examples of this type of analysis by the planning department and my thought is that if they can’t add value, then planning administration should be outsourced. But get ready for more of the same, because it’s not just a planning policy, it’s a city law…

  13. Posted by stucco-sux

    Have you ever had to share close space with someone who is crazy — they can turn on anyone at any moment because they are delusional and what they see is not anything anyone can control?
    If you live in SF, the answer is probably yes.
    But what’s startling is how common the above experience perfectly describes interaction with key SF agencies and departments, especially planning.
    Its a just plain insane and bi-polar disordered mess, top to bottom, including the planning commission.
    But the nice thing about having blogs these days that cover this stuff and force the light of day upon it is that at least people like these poor souls no longer have to suffer in obscurity.
    As someone who remembers the bad old days, that simple fact is a big improvement.

  14. Posted by joe shmoe

    This is pretty darn outrageous on so many levels.
    1. The proposed house is reasonable and is replacing housing stock that more than any problems that developed before title passed is simply outdated.
    2. The project will result in a net gain of dwelling units because the existing structure should not have a certificate of occupancy and could not be rented in current condition. Because of Prop. 13, not allowing redevelopment puts the property at significant risk of being carried as is until a better regime emerges at the Planning Department.
    3. The best way on the aggregate to protect the city from the danger of post earthquake fire is to allow new construction to replace older wood frame structures.
    It appears that the biggest bugaboo here is that the home is considered “affordable”. Take this as a warning to everyone, if you buy a home below a certain price, you will be subject to special review by the Planning Department and will have to go before the commission if you wish to do things that a planner thinks will make the home no longer “affordable”. This should also discourage people with fewer resources from buying an affordable home because the city will effectively be putting a cap on their appreciation if the commission goes along with the planner on this one.
    The real key to affordable housing is allowing development. Allowing lot mergers, allowing larger structures so there will be more housing available. It is simple economics of supply and demand and keeping substandard housing is no substitute for a plan to bring affordable, quality housing to the city.

  15. Posted by Alex in Santa Clara

    “The Department seems to think this building could be completely rehabilitated for $83K, including a new foundation while the building sits on cribs. That works out to about $90/sq ft for a building that has holes in the roof and a drifting (apparently in opposite directions) foundation.”
    A modest proposal:
    Let’s require the Planning Department to put its money where its mouth is.
    If the Planning Department recommends AGAINST demolition and reconstruction, citing that a house can be refurbished for a relatively low cost, let’s require the planning department to PROVIDE all rehab services outlined at the cost the department itself quotes if the homeowner chooses to rehab the property.
    The homeowner would, of course, be responsible for the entire cost quoted by the Planning Department, to the penny. The planning department would be required to provide all services needed to get the house into habitable and code-compliant condition, pending acceptance by a third-party inspection service. Planning would be responsible for all cost overruns, of course.
    I figure, if they’re certain that a reasonable contractor can refurbish the house for $X, they can either ensure that the work gets done and the house is returned to serviceable condtiion and becomes part of the city’s housing stock again, or they can get into the rehab business themselves. After all, if they’re so certain a reasonable contractor can make money rehabing a given house for a given amount of money, then they themselves can make money and boost their operating budget.

  16. Posted by diemos

    Hee hee.
    The planning department is now explicitly committed to a policy of maintaining a minimum amount of crappy dwelling so that the poor have someplace to live.
    What a country!

  17. Posted by michelle

    I wonder if this has something to do with blocking 154 Dwight’s view, the one-story house at the corner. Who lives there? I wouldn’t be surprised if it was someone “interesting”… just saying….

  18. Posted by formerly%whatever

    Yes, property owners in tonier neighborhoods are more likely to get demolition permits. The planning dept has a criteria for affordability and homes exceeding about 1.4 million in value today are exempt from additional scrutiny (i.e. no automatic staff-initiated discretionary review).

  19. Posted by Informed Skeptic

    When did ad-hoc social engineering goals, determined and administered by bureaucrats who were not selected for that reason, begin to trump individual property rights?
    It’s time for more “change” folks… real change, this time.

  20. Posted by followup

    Would you please tell us what the Planning Commission did at the meeting about the development on Lloyd Street?

  21. Posted by sleepiguy

    I bed to differ about planning being more lenient regarding demos in better, “less affordable” neighborhoods. I haven’t seen a full scale SFR demo in D7 in several years. I’ve seen a few homes remodeled into oblivion, but “potential historic district” sort of negates the affordability factor when it comes to getting staff approval for a demo.
    And yes, it’s a bit hysterical, but if the owners in this case had faked a separate in-law unit in this thing, it would’ve sailed through planning…

  22. Posted by eddy

    @Denis, is that you: sleepiguy.
    The fillmore st house that just went pending was almost a full demo and it was approved as far as i know but the city would have forced them to detatch on all sides, i.e., lose square footage. So they opted to gut the inside, rebuild the outside. And of course we have the Broadway listing that is looking for full demo approval so we’ll see how the department acts there.

  23. Posted by suspicious

    What is necessary for a group of normal people to rise up and take control of the city’s government to bring common sense back.

  24. Posted by Denis

    The malin listing? That’s what I call a remodel into oblivion project. I doubt the developers shot for a demo permit. The facade hardly changed, but most importantly they retained both units. Because it’s just a “remodel and not an entirely new structure,” the city really gets two new rent controlled units (even though we all know neither is likely to be rented out). The owners here didn’t play the game. Again they should have added a basement unit to the submitted plans, pulled a remodel permit, then just remodeled it into oblivion. Instead they tried to do something that actually makes sense..

  25. Posted by Lori

    I’m not so sure that the determination made by the planning department is completely without merit. If you take a look at their doc it states the house has been vacant for 10 YEARS. Why does the family suddenly have an interest in building something now? Why haven’t they taken care of it so it didn’t deteriorate for so long? I think there’s more to this story than a family that isn’t being allowed to live on their deceased parents land.

  26. Posted by sfrenegade

    “If you take a look at their doc it states the house has been vacant for 10 YEARS. Why does the family suddenly have an interest in building something now?”
    Why should we care?

  27. Posted by EBGuy

    I know I should be railing for private property rights, etc…, but really, these are the well established rules of the game. You tend to get a lot less ‘out of character’ stuff this way; I know that over here you just can’t wantonly knock crap down. Seriously, get grip, jack it up… and, ya know, in place demolition for the dry rot. Got to love the $420 property tax bill.

  28. Posted by lol

    Out of character?
    Let’s all go for cliffside dwellings as these were the only “in character” durable buildings present 600 years ago in America.

  29. Posted by Lori

    @sfrenegade — one of the reasons the planning committee didn’t approve the plan was because they said the property wasn’t properly maintained and had a lot of deferred maintenance. Probably because it was vacant for 10 years. If they are so concerned about the property and want to build on it why did they let it decay for that long? How do we know it wasn’t deliberately neglected? I’m of the opinion that owners should be responsible for maintaining their property. How do we know that they didn’t let it sit so it would deliberately have to be demolished?

  30. Posted by sfrenegade

    “I’m of the opinion that owners should be responsible for maintaining their property.”
    I think very few people would disagree with that, but isn’t this a question of framing? In the abstract, why should we care whether there was deferred maintenance here or not. If the matriarch of the family had lived in this house for 20 years and died last year, we might say the same thing and decide that it was acceptable even though it was willful.
    The problem here is that all of the solutions proposed make this into less affordable housing because of the astronomical construction costs. In order to get this passed planning, people are suggesting that they add another unit (which requires another kitchen and bathroom), jack up the house to add a level, and do an in-place demolition of the whole rest of the house.
    Other people say this is “playing the game” or following the “well established rules.” Shouldn’t we instead figure out why we have this silly rules? These rules do not create affordable housing.

  31. Posted by EBGuy

    Out of character?
    Oh come on now. We all know where these ‘provincial attitudes’ came from. I can walk less than half a block and see the lovely 70’s era additions to my neighborhood — very plain, stucco box, multi-units that do not, as they say, add character to the environment.
    Is the inevitable denial unfair? Yes. But I’m not going to fight city hall on this one.

  32. Posted by joe shmoe

    The really outrageous stuff comes when you read far into the document. They had originally planned to remodel, but the planner then told them it was a demolition, they submitted for the demolition as the planner suggested, and then that same planner rejected their plans. Wow. One thing I’ve noticed when dealing with planners is that they’ll tell you stuff, but they won’t ever put it in writing. Set your iPhones and Blackberries to ‘record’ when meeting with planners people! I dealt with a planner once that would never respond to e-mail, only would answer questions in person so nothing would be documented. Remember this everybody, record your meetings with planners.
    I don’t know what is going on, but it almost seems as if the planning department or planner is deliberately making this a long drawn out process, like somebody else wants that property.

  33. Posted by OneEyedMan

    joe – I think you are reading far too much into what is actually incompetence and fear of accountability at Planning

  34. Posted by joe shmoe

    OneEyedMan, I hope you’re right! But consultants and real estate lawyers are very friendly with all the planners.

  35. Posted by joe shmoe

    Let me put it this way: If an area redevelops organically, there’s no chance for a redevelopment district and lots of political donations and lots of lobbying jobs for former city officials… If you are an individual applying for a permit, you wait at the front for your planner. If you’re a former city official hired by a developer as a lobbyist, you walk in, wander around, and get to talk to everybody– they don’t even make you sign in… it is not as bad as Rhode Island or Louisiana, but it is pretty bad.

  36. Posted by jenofla

    The Planning Dept approved the demolition of both this address and 448 Diamond.

  37. Posted by sfrenegade

    “The Planning Dept approved the demolition of both this address and 448 Diamond.”
    That is great news! Now if they wouldn’t screw up a ton of other decisions, maybe we’d have something workable. Congrats to the family!

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