December 12, 2012

The Risks (And Rewards) Of Living In A Dense Urban Environment

1856%20Pacific%20Avenue.jpg

As we first reported a few months ago, while the proposed addition of another story atop the existing four-story building at 1856 Pacific Avenue was being opposed by both the owners of 1870 Pacific (the 7-story building to the west of 1856 Pacific) and the residents of 1870 Pacific Avenue apartment number 505 (whose lot line windows would be blocked by the addition), the Planning Department was recommending San Francisco's Planning Commission reject the requested Discretionary Review and approve the project.

1856%20Pacific%20Avenue%20Rendering.jpg

The opposition’s requested Discretionary Review (DR) of the project has since been dropped and the expansion and reskinning of 1856 Pacific Avenue, which lies within an 80-foot height district, will likely soon begin.

Once again, in the words of the Planning Department with respect to the risks involved with property line windows, private views, and living in a dense urban environment:

As property line windows and private views are not protected under Planning and Building Codes, and the project is a residential use, the project is within the minimum standards of the Residential Design Guidelines to be expected when a reasonable building expansion is proposed. The proximity of the project to the adjacent building is also within the reasonable tolerances to be expected when living in a dense urban environment such as San Francisco, and particularly the RM-3 Zoning District which is zoned to allow high-density residential buildings.

And if you don't want to live in a dense urban environment such as Pacific Heights, you can always live in an area like Western SoMa.

You've Been Warned: Let There Be Less Light And Fewer Views [SocketSite]
A Short-Sighted Plan For Western SoMa? [SocketSite]

First Published: December 12, 2012 10:30 AM

Comments from "Plugged In" Readers

Hurray for taller buildings. As for the neighbors, they still have that nice bay window.

Posted by: Zouaf at December 12, 2012 10:36 AM

Why not set back the addition to preserve at least the one property-line window showing in the photo, and allow developer to building a second additional floor in the process. Win/win, plus another unit or two added in the process.

Posted by: Invented at December 12, 2012 10:38 AM

Looks like a nice building. They even made the fire escape look palatable, if only by a little bit.

Posted by: Serge at December 12, 2012 10:57 AM

The general opinion seems to be, "screw the people who have a place" because the density ideologues demand people sacrifice for their view of the ideal world. If I had two windows that were being blocked off, so my living space lost light, I'd be mighty upset.

Posted by: MM2 at December 12, 2012 11:12 AM

I prefer that general opinion over "screw the people that don't have a place because there isn't enough density and I demand people sacrifice for my view of the world outside my two property line windows."

Posted by: Rillion at December 12, 2012 11:41 AM

So when this situation happens, and your window is now blocked by a new building next door, what construction do you have to do? I mean, do you have to take out the window? Is it boarded up? Who pays for that? Cause I thought the new building had to be flush against the old building where window is/was. Just curious. Thanks.

Posted by: Cam at December 12, 2012 11:45 AM

How irrational can you guys be?
So you propose that it's ok for one building to be 7+ stories, but when the neighbor wants to go to the same height -- the answer is no.

Posted by: Robert R at December 12, 2012 11:53 AM

Cam, I am not entirely sure what SF requires, but in general cases the owner of the window has to seal it up at their own expense. Whether or not that means building it as a wall or just boarding it up, I do not know. In either case, lot line windows do not come with any kind of view rights.

Posted by: Serge at December 12, 2012 11:54 AM

Robert: Certain buildings have grandfathered height limits and cannot be replaced. For instance, lots of corner buildings around SF cannot be rebuilt at the same height. Same applies for current construction or additions.

Posted by: Serge at December 12, 2012 11:57 AM

Serge: And your point?

My point is that would be unfair to deny this owner the right to build to the same height as his neighbor just because his neighbor will lose his view.

Otherwise, you are simply stating that the first one to build has more rights than others.

I find it completely retarded how people don't get this basic concept.

Posted by: Robert R at December 12, 2012 12:35 PM

Invented - I suspect that the developer would have gone for more stories regardless but engineering issues would have driven costs too high. The original building was probably over-engineered enough that one story could be added without needing to reinforce the foundation and the load path.

Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at December 12, 2012 12:44 PM

So why is it okay to build up and block views here, but the development that was proposed 70 Crestline (featured a week or so ago on this site) can't build... it seems to me as if there is no set standard in this town. This is why everything is done illegally, imho. Dealing with the City and it's departments and neighbor is such a pain.

Posted by: nancydrew99 at December 12, 2012 12:56 PM

Property line windows have to be covered up at the owner's expense, but in my experience, the neighbor typically offers to pay for it just to salvage some good will. The proper way to do it is to create a 1 or 2 hour rated fire resistant wall, but often it's just drywalled from the inside. The adjacent building's waterproofing is enough to prevent any other sort of damage.

Posted by: Jeremy at December 12, 2012 12:59 PM

I think in terms of Crestline the reasoning was because it was originally built as one development and the lot in questions was put in as open space for the complex.

Posted by: wc1 at December 12, 2012 1:53 PM

Robert: I didn't see that the limit in the neighborhood is 80ft. If that's the case, they should be able to go that high. View are not protected, so they can block it all they want.

Posted by: Serge at December 12, 2012 4:32 PM

A few points of clarification:

1. lot line windows are no longer allowed to avoid just this sort of issue

2. a residential building exceeding the current height limit or unit density can be rebuilt as is - although lot line windows are no longer allowed, every other feature of a "non-conforming" residential building can be rebuilt if destruction is an "act of god"

3. the new owner of this building bought it to construct their personal residence resulting in the one new full floor unit proposed

Posted by: SF planner at December 12, 2012 9:26 PM

"... residential building can be rebuilt if destruction is an "act of god"

And there you have it: Developers are gods.

But seriously thanks for the insight SF planner. Always great to get info straight from those in the know.

Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at December 13, 2012 10:17 AM

Twee

Thats all I can think of. There are so many people willing to prevent someone else from living in SF because it might affect their view from a single window.

Screw housing as a right, here pretty views from single windows are a right.

Posted by: Bob at December 13, 2012 11:44 AM

I don't think this is at all difficult to understand. All the people (Bob, Serge, Robert R., et al) saying that "views are not protected" are of course, strictly speaking, legally correct.

And yet, you can't look too long at ads for residential property in The City without encountering some listing real estate agent touting "the views" for a particular property. This indicates that when people buy property, they take the view into account.

What the above case means is that unless the property in question is located in a low density area or the property comes with a permanent (hah!) viewshed easement, the views you're be asked to consider as part of your purchase are temporary at best and can be blocked at any time, and so no one should pay a premium for them.

Does anyone here, including the supply-siders and developers, think that buyers are going to wise up overnight and stop paying for views? No? Then there will always be fights, DR requests, and lawsuits over new development when said development blocks incumbent homeowner's views.

Posted by: Brahma (incensed renter) at December 13, 2012 12:57 PM

Huh? Views are of course a selling point, but if lot-line windows figure into it, it shouldn't be a buying point. This is just a matter of simple due-diligence.

Posted by: eh at December 13, 2012 3:35 PM


SF Planner:

Does this mean that AB-009 (Local Equivalency for Approval of New Openings in New and Existing Building Property Line Walls) has been repealed? This is the document outlining the conditions under which property-line windows may be incorporated into buildings, and last I checked, was still in force

Posted by: around1905 at December 13, 2012 7:48 PM

If building more/increasing density lowers housing prices and opens up more living space, then why are housing prices rising so high so quickly and when - since the 1970s - has there ever been too many homes in San Francisco. High density destroys the neighborhoods that distinguish this city from a giant gated suburban "community." Albeit, one with dark sidewalks and little greenery.

This project is an example of how much the wealthy devlopers get their way by simply saying, "It's my dream house," or "My mother is moving in with me, so I need a variance." One person gets to cut off light to the home next door as well as the building across the street, which will now get less light every day.

Posted by: MM2 at December 14, 2012 1:14 AM

MM2, please stick to the facts of this case and stop spinning emotional stories. There is NO variance required here! This was a requested discretionary review. Lot line windows are not guaranteed and always a risk if the adjacent building height or setback is not regulated to protect them. This case is yet another example of a privileged neighbor trying to monkey wrench their neighbor from doing what they are legally entitled to do.

That said, I would agree that the developer would do well to include payment for closing the lot line windows to that building's owner(s) in their budget. That is sure to cost less than potentially worse feelings from the neighbors.

Posted by: Tom at December 14, 2012 6:24 AM

MM2 is spinning his story as a typical NIMBY.
Ultra conservative. He has his and now we need to pull up the drawbridge. My friend, California's population has doubled in the last 20 years, but SF's has not grown at all. This is where the housing should be built. Not bulldozing farmland in Modesto so residents can drive 2 hours to work.
This is a CITY. Dynamic. Always changing and hopefully growing (unlike Detroit). To be honest, the city should add at least 100,000 new units immediately to even make a dent in the shortage and overpriced commodity that housing has become.

Posted by: Chris McMahon at December 22, 2012 4:27 PM

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