San Francisco’s Planning Commission has voted 7-0 to reject the requested Discretionary Review (DR) for the home to be built at 645 Duncan Street, approving the designs for the new 4,820 square foot Noe Valley home as proposed.

And while we’ll have to consider it a rumor for now, if a plugged-in tipster is correct, the modern 6,000 square foot home next door at 625 Duncan might soon hit the market, a move which would appear to have been planned prior to last week’s ruling against the owners who had requested the Discretionary Review to block the building of 645 Duncan as proposed, characterizing their request as a fight to preserve “the character and charm” of the neighborhood.

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Comments from “Plugged-In” Readers

  1. Posted by lyqwyd

    Nice to see sanity does sometimes win, although it would be better if such frivolous requests never even made it that far.

  2. Posted by Grace

    And when the shall house on the right gets purchased and a home this size goes up in its place, this owner will also try to stop it.

  3. Posted by Futurist

    Good news. I hope the selfish owner at 625 learns something from this, and becomes less self-entitled.
    The entire DR process should be overhauled and defined with very strict components as to what is a valid complaint or not. The DR has been a waste of time, money and resources for our Planning Commission.

  4. Posted by lol

    The possible marketing of 625 Duncan is an interesting development. Did they plan to sell in the first place, then tried to preserve their equity? Did they give up because of all the grief that was probably born out of this fight?
    About the timing: In general it’s much easier to sell a house with a sweeping view that will be partially blocked than a house with the view already blocked. Perception is everything, and prospective buyers will still remember the impression the view made on them.
    Most important, the sellers should better hurry to get a buyer before any construction starts. Dust, noise, machinery traffic are not a seller’s friends.

  5. Posted by Mark G

    Why does the first rendering have design changes to “limit impact on DR requester”? Did they previously have a back and fourth on the design that did not resolve all the DR requester’s issues, and that led to the DR? Certainly it was not a result of this DR.

  6. Posted by noe mom

    Yes I would agree that this one was obviously egregious, however a couple of points with regard to the DR process:
    1. There are many, many remodels that are actually, truly tear-downs which would require a mandatory DR. Something should be done to regulate this better, not only for the integrity of the process, but the City is losing a lot of money in fees with this deception.
    2. A legitimate process of story poles needs to be put in place with poles and netting and the work done by the Building Department who could conceivably be neutral party in placing those things, based on an accurate reading of the plans. This should be charged to the developer/project sponsor, just like the mailing notifications and the application fee. In fact it should be part of the application. If people saw a realistic facisimile of what was going up they might be less inclined to fight, because they would understand better what they are getting.
    3.There needs to be a better way to resolve disputes than Community Boards which everyone in the DR process is “suppose” to go through. Their architectural and design competence is limited, as is there ability to really solve the issues.
    4.Sometimes DR requestors are right and should not all be viewed as selfish and are interested in preserving the neighborhood and good design. Remember, they will (in most cases although supposedly not in this one) continue to live there while so much of what is being built, is spec housing, not “family” housing and the respondent is moving on….

  7. Posted by noodle

    Mark G, before you file with the planning department, you’re required to have a meeting with your neighbors, present your plans, record their concerns, and include in your filing how you will address neighbors’ concerns. I’m guessing those renderings show design changes intended to address 625’s concerns. The DR packet also includes a letter from the project sponsor discussing attempts at negotiation with the neighbors.
    I very much doubt that DR reform legislation will pass any time soon. That’s what the planning department says they need to make any further changes to the process.

  8. Posted by SM

    Noe Mom–the idea of requiring a project sponsor to pay for story poles and netting is ridiculous. It is tremendously expensive and could easily lead to more frivolous complaints. For example, in the instant case, putting up story poles wouldn’t have helped at all. The unreasonable DR requester would have wasted the project sponsor’s money and time to put them up and complain anyway.

  9. Posted by Futurist

    Story poles and all the time and expense with it, is just a waste of time. This will only allow the DR requestor to put up endless “suggestions” and “comments”; basically disliking anything they see.
    The Planning Code and Commission has the rules, regulations and codes in place, in writing, to define the foot print, height, bulk, setbacks of any proposed property.
    As for DR requestors “sometimes” looking for the good of the neighborhood, I would call this pure fantasy and imagination. The care only about their property, their views and their dollars.

  10. Posted by eddy

    No surprise here. The system works even though it has its flaws.
    I noticed the small clay street home that was under neighboring DR scrutiny was finally getting its demo today. Couldn’t find the linked post anywhere.

  11. Posted by Joe

    Story poles and netting? Seriously?
    whats next? a ballot proposition to preserve the rural and provincial character of noe valley?
    This is a city, isnt it? Or is it really just a large gated community?
    Cant wait to see the 1017′ story poles and netting for the transbay tower

  12. Posted by Mark

    Simply put, the owner of 625 should have purchased the lot to preserve the views. Otherwise, too bad.

  13. Posted by EH

    No better way to preserve the character of a neighborhood than for the jerks among them to move away.

  14. Posted by mdg

    I hope the guy who made the complaint paid ALOT OF $$$ – cause he certainly caused the owner/builder to spend alot to fight this nonsensical complaint

  15. Posted by james jr

    A sane outcome. This time.

  16. Posted by Not Bashing

    MDG,
    The guy who made the complaint paid some small token application fee – a few hundred bucks if I remember correctly – and took a few minutes to fill out a form. Also, they can still appeal and continue to hold up the project, at little to no cost. This is the right outcome, but the process is ridiculous. Not plannings fault, we do need DR reform. Badly.
    What a waste of time, money and energy. And tentpoles? Really? When are people going to get past this idea that they have a right to pick what their neighbors do to their homes? These same people would be FURIOUS if someone did this to them. Houses get old…people remodel them to their liking…you have no “right” to everything around you remaining exactly the same when you own a house. Or to tell your neighbors what they should do, just because you don’t like their color choice, or architectural style, or they will block your view.
    Way to make the city one big gated community. Tentpoles. That’s a new low.

  17. Posted by Chuck Ponzi

    looks like a ghetto for rich people

  18. Posted by NoeValleyJim

    Los Gatos requires tent poles:
    http://www.town.los-gatos.ca.us/index.aspx?NID=733
    If San Francisco wants to really be as exclusive and elitist as Los Gatos, we need to adopt their planning practices.
    Though if 8 Washington put up tent poles and netting, I am willing to bet that the project would be a slam dunk.

  19. Posted by noe mom

    Gee whiz, I did not mean to be elitist. (Although given the real estate prices, San Francisco IS as exclusive and elitist as Los Gatos). What I meant to be is practical. I only intended it in residential neighborhoods which is where I would assume most DRs take place. I was thinking people could be reasonable and recognize that a project may not be too bad, plus it would force developers to be honest on their plans and not obscure the true size of a project.
    Additionally, I think it was interesting that no one picked up on my concern about defacto demos which is what the major remodeling jobs are and all the money the City is loosing there in fees. If developer’s were honest and said they were demos, they could have a Mandatory DR and maybe the whole process would be quicker.
    And here is another fact, while no one is entitled to a view as we all know from the Planning Department’s RDG, there is an inherent hypocrisy, that developer’s build to get a view. Everyone wants a view, that is why we live in SF, that is where the money is, but to say that no one is entitled to a view and then allow height for a view that changes the character of a block, is hypocritical and ironic. (But who isn’t hypocritical? And ironic?)
    The 625 Duncan building is not a good example really for this discussion even though it generated one. The DR requestor’s building itself was too big. He should have bought the lot if he really wanted to keep his views. Greed begets greed and frankly I feel sorry for anyone who lives up there because they get the worst of Noe Valley weather inspite of their “views”. It will be interesting to see how they BOTH sell.

  20. Posted by NJ

    noe mom, you say:
    “Everyone wants a view, that is why we live in SF, that is where the money is, but to say that no one is entitled to a view and then allow height for a view that changes the character of a block, is hypocritical and ironic.”
    Can you please explain a bit more? Other than the fact that people like good views, I am not understanding what you’re saying.

  21. Posted by noe mom

    The Planning Department and Planning Commission, have sort of codified in the Residential Design Guideline and in their decision making process that “no one is entitled to a view” In other words you cannot oppose a project on the grounds that it will block your view. No views, except public views are protected. So, if someone wants to build an addition or a totally new building they often want to create a view for themselves even at the expense of someone else’s view. And at the expense of the character of the block because they will be building something BIGGER than everything else. So the property owner with the first view has no rights, while the second property owner can build something that creates a view for his property which means to me that he is entitled to a view. Extra height=view. View=More money for the developer. That what is hypocritical and ironic to me.
    As a sidebar with regard to public views I don’t think this has much meaning either. You just have to ride the J Church and get off at Dolores Park and see how the public view of the Bay Bridge has been obscured and on its way to obliteration by the two mega-highrises and more to come.
    I hope I was clearer in my explaination.

  22. Posted by Futurist

    Not sure where to start with the comments by noe mom: so many of them are off base, and well, naïve.
    1. We don’t live here because we all want views.
    where did you come up with that?
    2.Developers don’t “all” build to get a view. Not every lot has views. Again, what are you thinking?
    3. Not all demos are remodeling jobs. Many older buildings have very little left structurally or functionally to be useful. Think brick foundations.
    4.Height limits, per the code, are not to “allow for a view”. Again, many lots have no views, but the height is allowed by strict numbers.
    5. Perhaps your comment about the views of the Bay Bridge being “obscured” by new high-rises is, well, ridiculous. Just move 10′ and you get a new view. good grief. The high rises of downtown are PART of the view.
    I thought your comments were way off base, and not well thought out.

  23. Posted by Rocco

    Noe Moms’ hand-wringing aside, 625 should never have been designed and built incorporating views that could be built on later. The current owner was either badly advised or decided that potential construction next door was worth the risk– knowing they could blackmail changes through the DR process.
    One also might wonder how such an ugly, aggressive house got 325 letters supporting the DR.

  24. Posted by NJ

    noe mom,
    Thanks for the explanation. However, I disagree with your opinion.
    Let’s assume that a new house gets a nice view, while at the same time obscuring an old building’s view. Assuming no variances were granted, there is no hypocrisy. The code is the code, and it allows for certain height limits. That’s really the end of the story. The new building is simply maximizing its height limit, and in so doing winds up with a view. In fact, the developer/owner would, in the general case, be silly not to grab an available view.
    A key point, however, is that the old building is in the same boat. If it was built low, it, too, has the option of going higher — within code — to possibly recapture some of its lost views. If it cannot get a view, then that property simply was not a view property to begin with, and the fact that it ever had a view was simply a temporary accident/windfall based on the fact that the neighboring lot never took advantage of its maximum height.
    Pretty simple, and nothing hypocritical, IMHO. Now, if you start getting into variances, ballot measures, DRs, etc., we can start talking about hypocrisy. JMHO.

  25. Posted by Brahma (incensed renter)

    I think it’s pretty disingenuous to pooh pooh someone’s legitimate argument with “…the fact that people like good views” or “you have no ‘right’ to…tell your neighbors what they should do, just because…they will block your view.” This is just argumentative misdirection.
    Legalities aside (I acknowledge that no one has the legal right to protect their view), the underlying issue, as everyone reading this thread well knows, is that developers are influenced on what and how to build by the available views, real estate agents hype the views associated with a piece of property, and buyers pay a premium for those views.
    When another building comes along and blocks the views that a previous buyer paid for, that creates a real loss of economic utility for the incumbent owner. That’s an undeniable fact.
    The only “winners” are the real estate agents who sold the property and derived their commission based on the temporarily increased value of the property while the views weren’t impaired, which probably explains a lot the comments above in this thread putting down or insulting the DR requestor in this case.
    I’m not claiming this phenomenon is unique to San Francisco, but since so much money is riding on real estate, the stakes are high, and that’s why the fighting will continue and DR reform will never have a chance, unless the real estate agents who stand to benefit from it the most start kicking in a lot more money to support the political campaigns of people like Scott Wiener (I have no idea what percentage of Supervisor Wiener’s campaign funding comes from the development community currently).
    Barring that, the only true resolution will come when buyers stop being suckers and stop paying a premium for views that can and will be blocked by subsequent development.
    Fat chance of that, since no one can know the course of future development.

  26. Posted by Futurist

    Well, Brahma, aside from your rant against real estate agents, I find little that what you said to be correct. Real estate agents benefitting the most? Really? Wow.
    Let’s not forget that views are not always in ONE direction. The existing house at 625 still has significant views to the north and to downtown. Owners should realize that, in general, views toward their SIDE property lines are always going to be vulnerable, if an adjacent neighbor chooses to build up, per the allowable height limit. And yes, the owner should always be allowed to build up to the height on their property.
    Calling buyers “suckers” because they exercise their right to pay a certain dollar amount for a property they WANT, just smacks of envy, jealousy and being a busy-body.
    Why would you care?

  27. Posted by Sanfrantim

    Bullseye Socketsite! The visuals tell the story. Well done

  28. Posted by Truth

    625 duncan will retain its huge views. The westerly views are the lesser views. The degree to which certain people on here obviously don’t understand real life locations is constantly amusing. I would like to see a builder ir an architect weigh in on Noemom’s one interesting take. How is it that builders demo all but one wall, and then that wall gets removed too? How is that not a teardown?

  29. Posted by Futurist

    I’m an architect here, one of few.
    Builders do that all the time. I have designed projects that involve that issue of saving one wall. The entire building is a piece of junk. time for a new building.
    What’s the problem?
    Don’t go after the builder/developer/owner. Go after the incompetent SF Building Department who plays along with the game, reducing their own fee intake.
    They are the real problem.

  30. Posted by Brahma (incensed renter)

    Futurist, please. If we were just discussing this one house in Noe Valley, I wouldn’t care, and no, my comments do not smack of envy, or jealousy and I’m not a busy body.
    “Why would you care?” is a silly rhetorical tactic that attempts to cut off legitimate discussion and I’m not falling for it. So quit it, it’s not going to work.
    I’m observing that a lot of people on one side of the argument on this issue (and it applies to many other places in The City than Noe Valley and situations other than for SFHs) like to pretend they don’t understand the economic motivations behind DR requests, or in the case of 8 Washington St., ballot measures B & C. Or in the case of 706 Mission St., the lawsuit by owners of units at an existing luxury building where views would be impaired. Of course, I’m just assuming for the sake of argument and brevity that the incumbent owners views being impaired are the real motivations for the actions mentioned.
    It’s perfectly understandable, and in fact rational from an economic perspective. What would be silly would be if people with the wherewithal to do so had something they paid thousands of dollars for (the marginal increase in purchase price for “the views”) made a lot less valuable due to the actions of their neighbors or developers out to make more money, and didn’t attempt to fight back.

  31. Posted by Futurist

    What I think is silly, if not absurd is that the owners of 625 Duncan, when they had their house designed and built, with multiple expanses of glass and view corridors TOWARD the west, did NOT consider that their views would eventually be blocked by new construction on the vacant lot next to them.
    Were they just naïve? Were they just not thinking? Did they think it would never happen? Did they ever consider buying that vacant lot?
    Their frivolous DR, in my opinion, was their last and weak attempt to finally address reality and “hope” to save their precious views.
    Well, they failed.

  32. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    “Los Gatos requires tent poles”
    True. And one of the results seems to be that developers go ahead with their plans, sinking the story poles low enough to appease every neighbor’s view light and air concerns.
    To demonstrate, I present The House in a Hole: http://goo.gl/maps/Q3cjz : completely encircled by retaining walls, even including the driveway.

  33. Posted by noe mom

    There is the code which everyone tries to stay in, like the 40 foot height limit which people rarely mess with…but then there are the Residential Design Guidelines. They create certain expectations real or not when a potential DR Requestor is looking to make an argument.
    They can be amorphous, subject to a judgement call. Maybe if they got rid of them there would be no DR requests.
    It is democracy and it is messy, but I would bet that most DR requests are denied ultimately anyway. They have a right to protect their property value too, particularly if it is the main source of wealth for the owner, and maybe the threat of a DR works to keep really, truly egregious projects from being built.
    But I think the market, particularly in Noe Valley but most of SF residential neighborhoods is really skewed right now towards developers building big homes, with views however they can get them to maximize their profit, and mostly selling them to people who also have a home in Silicon Valley. That is ok in a market sense but in the long run I don’t think it makes for a healthy residential City. (Never mind the problems of renters which is a huge problem in itself if you want a vibrant City). The creating of views and blocking of other people’s views is just a biproduct of that. Bottom line:
    The ability to capture a view is a marketing tool, not a part of good design.
    I don’t think I am naive, just have my opinion like everyone else here.

  34. Posted by El-D

    @Brahma: When another building comes along and blocks the views that a previous buyer paid for, that creates a real loss of economic utility for the incumbent owner. That’s an undeniable fact.
    How your hypothetical building that the “previous buyer paid for” get there in the first place?
    I’m guessing it wasn’t the first building ever. So that building “created a real loss of … utility” for yet another previous incumbent.
    This is why I can’t get behind this kind of logic. It’s turtles all the way down.

  35. Posted by Steve

    “The only “winners” are the real estate agents…”
    Let’s not forget the buyers of the new property. They certainly will benefit from the views.
    This business satisfies my need for regular doses of schadenfreude.

  36. Posted by Rebecca

    Hi everyone, I am the woman who waited at the Planning Commission meeting for 5 hours to make sure I was there when the owner of 545 Duncan’s (Bruce Gilpin’) DR came up for discussion. No one asked me to be there, but I felt strongly out of principle that someone needed to speak up against Bruce’s campaign to block the proposed home next door.
    Bruce purchased his home at 625 Duncan for $6M 5 years ago when it was not even completed, so you know he had to put more money into it to finish it. The lot next door was empty then, and fully undeveloped, so he could have purchased it for a song had he wanted to preserve his views. Instead, the lot went for not a lot of money to a developer who decided to put a home HALF the size of Bruce’s right next door. At this point, Bruce could have negotiated (with money) either to buy the lot or negotiate an easement. Instead, he spent money on lawyers (a lawyer who goes by the name “Boxer” and mentions his wife a lot) and used the City process to use taxpayer money to fight his battle to keep his westward views.
    Bruce made a lot of strategic errors here — he hired an incompetent lawyer, who gave him bad advice, he created an online petition that begged us to preserve the “character of the neighborhood” and which actually photo-shopped his house out of the picture (in some of its versions), and probably his biggest mistake was posting the petition on nextdoor.com, which linked to his actual address if you are one of his close neighbors (which I am). Once I had exposed him as the creator of the petition, the local blogs picked it up and publicized it, which must have been pretty embarrassing for him.
    Also probably embarrassing for him was when the Planning Commission unanimously ruled against him 7-0, despite his team of 5 lawyers, and the 20 neighbors he had begged to speak up on his behalf — including a real estate agent who seriously must be the worst business person on earth because she could be the person representing the buyer of the proposed home and could earn a nice commission on that!
    No one in that group of anti-development residents like “Noe Mom” (and hey – I’m a Noe Mom too, a Noe working mom who saved a long time to buy my house) seem to realize how fortunate they are to own property in such a swiftly appreciating neighborhood!
    But unlike all the residents, who stand to gain from 545 Duncan, Bruce stands to lose from it. It will help everyone else’s home values, but hurt his. And I know he knows that – and he is angry about that – but he really should have behaved better, and for sure he shouldn’t have sworn at me so loudly after the Planning Commission Hearing, when he loudly shouted “F**K YOU” at me, rather than saying good bye. I mean, that was not very mature or professional of him.
    But I’m not going to let it get to me. I went to the Planning Commission out of principle. I’m here to say I am GRATEFUL for the changes to our neighborhood, for the new beautiful homes that are modern and environmentally efficient. Due to these new homes, our home has appreciated, which means that some day we may be able to sell our home and pay for our children’s college education. If that is not a Mom’s priority, tell me what is?

  37. Posted by Truth

    That was awesome! Thanks Rebecca.

  38. Posted by NJ

    Great post, Rebecca. Just curious, what were the mistakes you thought his lawyer made?

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