September 5, 2013

Buyers Of 6,000 Foot Home Now Fight To Preserve "Noe's Charm"

625 Duncan Street (

As we first reported earlier this week, the approved plans for a staggered three-story over garage Noe Valley home to be built at 645 Duncan Street have been challenged by the "Noe Valley Neighbors" who have gathered support for their requested Discretionary Review to overturn the project's approval by characterizing it as "a precedent setting five story single family home in Noe Valley, potentially altering the character and charm of this neighborhood forever."

As we pointed out, the proposed "precedent setting" home would rise adjacent to 625 Duncan Street, the modern 6,000 square foot home above which was built in 2008 and is currently the second most expensive home in the neighborhood having been bought by the former COO of MobiTV for $5,818,000 in 2008.

And as a number of plugged-in readers correctly surmised, the "Noe Valley Neighbors" who filed the Discretionary Review and are campaigning for its support based on their concerns for the "the character and charm" of neighborhood are none other than the owners of 625 Duncan whose charming views to west would just so happen to be blocked by the new home.

A Threat To "The Character And Charm" Of Noe Valley? [SocketSite]
The Spec-tacular 625 Duncan Sells For $5,818,000 In Noe Valley [SocketSite]

First Published: September 5, 2013 12:15 PM

Comments from "Plugged In" Readers

"... the "Noe Valley Neighbors"... are none other than the owners of 625 Duncan."


Posted by: Jackson at September 5, 2013 12:27 PM

Are they also protesting the Mexican Museum?

Posted by: Brad at September 5, 2013 12:31 PM

I hope they fail miserably. This is one of the most self-entitled "I have mine but you don't get yours" DR's ever seen.

Posted by: Futurist at September 5, 2013 12:40 PM

so they dont want another monstrosity next to their monstrosity? this should be thrown out immediately. nothing charming about 625 duncan

Posted by: Spencer at September 5, 2013 1:07 PM

This would be a good time for the owners of 625 Duncan to buy the adjacent property and spare everyone the drama.

Posted by: midcentfan at September 5, 2013 1:10 PM

Dear Owners of 625 Duncan: wow - amazing selfishness and a waste of taxpayers money - OUR money! good luck (Not really) - I hope the city denies your request

Posted by: mdg at September 5, 2013 1:53 PM

I think that they should buy the land and then donate to the city for a park. They could then write off the cost of the land and prevent anything else from being built there. It's interesting to think that if that house gets built the neighbors will already hate each other. so sad. Rich people are funny.

Posted by: sfwalker at September 5, 2013 2:18 PM

Maybe this needs to be on the ballot too.

Posted by: Ed at September 5, 2013 2:19 PM

Yeah, let's vote on it!

Posted by: Steve at September 5, 2013 2:30 PM


The larger point is, should discretionary reviews have the scope to deny anything based on such criteria as "charm"? There seems to be a particular affliction in this city, an already dense and popular one, to believe that they live in some sort of small town where nothing changes. They therefore take to the appropriate channels of government to assume control of property rights held by current and prospective neighbors.

This leads to the insanity we are seeing of late. The Four Seasons suit and DRs like this call to question a very basic assumption made in San Francisco planning and development: What is the just and efficient role of planning? Is it ceding future growth and change to the whims of an entrenched populace? Or is it ensuring functional and safety compliance, while ensuring that municipal resources can be provided at projected revenue levels economically? I'd argue the latter.

The municipality has already assumed the rights of first ownership over land by claiming a primary, everlasting lien on all real property within it's jurisdiction. This is consented to not for painstaking control over all facets of life in this jurisdiction, but in a somewhat mistaken conception of "the tragedy of the commons" and free-rider problems - it being assumed that no form of private ownership could adequately and efficiently deal with such problems(again, something I take exception to, but this isn't the place to discuss why). Therefore, it follows that it should be using the planning process to deal with those issues - not issues of control over appearance or the non-functional form of improvements made to properties within it's jurisdiction.

Following these lines would allow property to be built as it is demanded by all market participants, and would require those that wish to retain control over the type or scale of development in a district to assume such controls through market means - i.e., purchasing or leasing the property on such terms as the owner agrees to. Planning would be done in advance with an eye towards handling growth through smart, forward looking capacity increases in city infrastructure and services, as well as code compliance, with reviews only occurring to ensure compliance with said requirements. This process could be made more efficient and market-driven by considering a switch from property taxes - which apply a low rate to land and improvements - to land value taxation, which is much closer to a land-lease arrangement.

Sorry for the mini-rant, but your comment and this spate of ridiculous "protectionist" lawsuits and discretionary reviews has really incited me to speak out about what has shaken my faith in this City that I live.

Posted by: Anthony at September 5, 2013 2:32 PM

Can we also vote on what color scheme they get paint it? Cause let's face it, some colors are more charming than other colors.

Posted by: Rillion at September 5, 2013 2:52 PM

Bonafied neighborhood groups dont have to pay DR fees - I wonder the if the "noe valley neighbors" paid for this DR.

Posted by: Joe at September 5, 2013 2:56 PM

Is that really a $5.8 million house with no garage?

Posted by: BTinSF at September 5, 2013 3:42 PM

BTinSF: you can see the large garage on the lower left of the pic. It's partially obscured by a tree.

Posted by: Gordon at September 5, 2013 3:50 PM

I guess I'm the only one that doesn't care if owners or groups decide to file a DR. The system exists and lot owners / developers should know the challenges of doing anything in this city. Few things get SSers riled up like a NIMBY complaint.

There is almost no chance the city will prevent a home from being built on this lot. I've found the city to be more reasonable in their responses to these things is of the past year or so. I expect them to review this project and predict the project will be approved as-is unless there is something egregious that we're not seeing here.

Noe needs more property tax revenues and I expect the home that gets built on this lot will contribute heartily.

Posted by: eddy at September 5, 2013 4:51 PM

The current DR process is broken. The main flaw being that what qualifies for DR is almost completely undefined, filing a DR is ridiculously cheap and easy, and the burden of proof is on the developer, rather than the filer of the DR. It is basically used for extortion or as a delaying tactic regardless of the merit of the DR. It can also be very expensive for the party filing a permit, regardless of whether they are completely within the bounds of permitting.

I'm not opposed the there being a DR process, but I'm opposed to this one, which is extremely unbalanced.

Posted by: lyqwyd at September 5, 2013 5:31 PM

@eddy - Although DRs are one hurdle that should be expected in the development process, that doesn't mean the system can't be improved to be more fair and efficient.

The planning dept. states that DRs should be filed "only when there are exceptional and extraordinary circumstances associated with a proposed project." In many DR'd projects, this simply isn't the case.

Furthermore, the cost of the DR process is unfairly distributed in that the requester only pays ~$500 (or $0 if they're a neighborhood org.) and the project sponsor pays $3000+ regardless of the outcome. The fees should be based on the outcome so that frivolous cases would be reduced and the department would have more resources to put towards higher priorities.

Posted by: Joel at September 5, 2013 5:48 PM

Shouldn't people with wealthier homes have more say in what happens in their neighborhood, seeing as they pay much more in taxes and have more of a vested interest, regardless of how fresh off the boat they are?

Posted by: sf at September 5, 2013 11:05 PM

SF, the people at 645 Duncan will be similarly wealthy, pay the same relative amount in property taxes for their new home, and don't they have the same right to develop their property within the guidelines of the Planning Code?

Not sure what your "fresh off the boat" notation means and what makes you so sure they are not long time City residents who simply want a larger home?
This disparaging comment is silly.

The question is why can one property owner (DR petitioner) prevent another property owner from building upon their land?

Posted by: Jackson at September 6, 2013 12:59 AM

I live in this neighborhood and drive by this site every day. I don't know the owner of 625 Duncan, but I would support their due process to get a discretionary review hearing. I admire and enjoy seeing the design of their home. The rendering of the design of 645 Duncan looks to me like a latter day "spite wall" without offering the same visual interest of 625 Duncan. The featureless design of 645 Duncan design could be set back further and not block the angles and color of 625 Duncan. I don't think it's just about protecting their westerly views because the view to the west in that direction isn't that interesting. Count me as a neighbor who thinks this is a worthy fight from a street view perspective.

Posted by: Tomcat at September 6, 2013 12:24 PM

I disagree completely with Tomcat. I too live in the vicinity of this neighborhood and walk there all the time.

And Tomcat: admiring the design of 625 Duncan has absolutely NO relevance with regard to the DR filing against 645 Duncan. There is no spite wall being planned or designed. Properties are allowed to build up to the property line, with defined code restrictions. Do you realize that 625 Duncan can ALSO be seen as a "spite wall" building to the existing, older neighbors to the east?

Every new property, inevitably, has some inpact on adjacent properties, and 625 is no exception.

And also note that the proposed 645 is showing some property line windows, which COULD be blocked from views when the (still empty) adjacent lot to the west is built on.

I hope the Planning Commission remains logical on this issue and completely denies any of the components of the impending DR.

Posted by: Futurist at September 6, 2013 12:48 PM

Honestly, there's nothing really "charming" left in Noe Valley. Just one rich person trying to spite another.

Posted by: Mark at September 6, 2013 1:37 PM

Incorrect, Futurist. The lot to the west of 645 has a cottage at its rear.

Posted by: Anon at September 6, 2013 1:55 PM

Ok, yes, there is a cottage to the rear of that lot, nearly at the rear property line.

When, not if, but when that lot also gets developed, the proposed building can also be built out near the front prop lines and on the side lot lines, thus potentially, blocking those PL windows on the subject property.

Posted by: Futurist at September 6, 2013 2:32 PM

The owners of 645 Duncan should contract with an affordable housing developer to build a halfway house for parolees trying to get their lives together.

Posted by: Dan at September 6, 2013 3:20 PM

hey sf
I agree with you that "people with wealthier homes [should] have more say in what happens in their neighborhood, seeing as they pay much more in taxes." It's so great that someone actually said that. I mean, it's kinda not PC. I would go further though. The rich should have more votes too! Maybe 5 votes per million dollars. Or 500. Or more? Maybe millions and millions of votes. Ten million votes per million dollars. Then those pipsqueak middle class types could be (even more) completely ignored.

Posted by: lark at September 6, 2013 4:58 PM

lark: ok, I know you're being sarcastic, but in fact, rich people don't need any more votes, their money influences things much more than voting

Posted by: bub at September 6, 2013 5:54 PM

following the noblesse oblige riff of sf|lark:

sure, as long as all civic duties are equally proportional, such as jury duty and military service.

Posted by: Jake at September 6, 2013 6:36 PM

As a neighbor and an experienced permit expeditor, I am very pleased with San Francisco Planning process. It is so dysfunctional and corrupted. It costs practically nothing to file a DR. Thanks to so many DRs, permit expeditors are in strong demand. We charge $500 to $900 an hour. We love it when neighbors fight among themselves. We love DRs.

Posted by: Duncan permit expeditor at September 7, 2013 5:32 PM

And permit expediters are deeply entrenched in the corruption and dysfunction as well.

And I've said it before.

Posted by: Futurist at September 7, 2013 5:45 PM

Can you please post information about when the Board of Appeals will hear this case? I want to go there to speak on behalf of the developer who bought the empty lot at 645 Duncan Street. I live in the direct neighborhood and I want to testify with photos that the only thing out of character on that block is the overgrown empty lot and the tiny run down cottage next door. All the other houses are beautiful modern mansions.

It really shocks me that the owners of 645 Duncan paid $6 Million for an unfinished house with 270 degree views, but didn't bother to purchase the empty lot next door, which they could have bought for a song 5 years ago. 20 20 hindsight is a bitch.

Posted by: Rebecca at September 13, 2013 10:22 AM

Posted by: SocketSite at September 23, 2013 11:35 AM

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