October 16, 2013
Protecting San Francisco’s Historic Fabric Amid Its Boom
With the population of San Francisco projected to grow by 20 percent over the next two decades, hitting the one million mark around 2035, many new buildings will need to be built and existing buildings repurposed.
Believing that it’s critical to protect the historic fabric of the city while supporting growth and change, San Francisco Architectural Heritage and SPUR have examined "the city’s processes for preservation planning, project review and decision-making." The conclusion of their joint policy report which is being presented to San Francisco’s Historic Preservation Commission this afternoon:
San Francisco has many wonderful historical resources worthy of protection. However, the process of reviewing proposed changes to historical resources in existing, identified and potential historic districts is in need of improvement. In particular, the way the CEQA process relates to historic preservation issues can be murky and complex, especially in areas that have not undergone a formal historic survey process.
The report’s 19 recommendations to improve the historic preservation process and create rules and guidelines that are "clear, consistent and transparent" in San Francisco:
1. Complete a citywide [Historic Resource] survey.
2. Conduct [Historic Resource] surveys early in the area plan process so that the survey results can be used to help inform planning activities.
3. Solicit public input in the development of context statements and themes.
4. Notify the public, district property owners, residents and business owners at the outset of the survey process. Explain why the survey is occurring, the potential benefits and impacts of being part of a survey area and how survey data will be used.
5. Publish community outreach standards and policies for historic resource surveys.
6. Develop a user-friendly grievance process.
7. Publish planning department community engagement policies and procedures for historic districts in a new administrative bulletin.
8. Develop clear design guidelines that interpret how best to apply the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties to individual historic districts.
9. Provide a clear mechanism to enable project applicants to request advisory opinions from the San Francisco Historic Preservation Commission’s Architectural Review Committee (ARC) in order to obtain the group’s input on compliance with design guidelines early in the process.
10. Expand local access to historic preservation incentives, including state Mills Act property tax relief for historic property owners.
11. Publish guidelines that identify significant historical themes, associated property types and thresholds of significance for the purpose of making CEQA determinations on individual buildings.
12. Revise Preservation Bulletin 16 to provide clear guidelines on how to evaluate the impacts of major alterations or demolition of contributors within historic districts.
13. Encourage collaboration between planning department staff and property owners (and their architects) so that compliance with the Secretary’s Standards can be achieved more quickly and efficiently.
14. Provide a clear mechanism to enable project applicants to seek an advisory opinion from the ARC when they cannot reach agreement with planning department staff on interpretation of the Secretary’s Standards.
15. Complete a citywide survey so that historical resources are identified systematically and prospectively, rather than on an ad hoc basis during CEQA review (as per Recommendation No. 1).
16. Develop a new administrative bulletin defining the process for conducting historic resource evaluations (HREs). This bulletin should include guidance on when HREs should or should not be required for projects in designated historic districts, in potential historic districts or adjacent to or within view of historic districts.
17. Clarify the conditions under which the planning department can require project sponsors to complete their own survey work in an unsurveyed area; define the appropriate geographic boundaries and level of detail.
18. Clarify how alteration and development projects that are adjacent to landmarks and to designated, identified and potential districts (but not actually within one of these districts) should be treated for the purposes of CEQA review.
19. Complete the development of local interpretations and design guidelines based on the Secretary’s Standards per the recent update to Articles 10 and 11 of the San Francisco Planning Code.
The full report and details behind the recommendations: Historic Preservation In San Francisco.
First Published: October 16, 2013 3:15 PM
Comments from "Plugged In" Readers
20. And most importantly. Continue to slap up ugly, cheap boring boxes and whacky planning dept. trend du jour fad & fetishes.
To co-mingle with all the other (eventually discredited) planning trends du jour fads & fetiches of years past.
Meanwhile ruining as many site lines, ear drums. streetscapes, balanced budgets and calm stomachs as possible.
Posted by: $AN FRANCI$CO at October 16, 2013 5:31 PM
Opinions are like ..
I think the idea that sf will have a million people is a bit much given that we are going to have a city wide vote funded almost entirely by one elderly couple that want to preserve their view over 30 feet.
SF is micro micro focused and the alternative plans put forth when development is discussed have no basis in economics or reality
Posted by: Bob at October 16, 2013 7:16 PM
Agree with comment #1. I'm sick of these ugly and cheap boxes that pass for architecture. They will not stand the test of time or ever be considered examples of fine architecture. One just has to look at all the drab boxes that were built from the 70s and on (see: all the flat-faced apartment buildings). They were likely fancy and modern at the time, but now they look like someone with no imagination designed them.
But that's just me ranting.
Posted by: Serge at October 16, 2013 10:21 PM
If you want to save more history, build taller buildings.
Posted by: BobN at October 17, 2013 10:04 AM
Look, I get the rants about ugly cheap architecture, but Transbay, 181 Fremont, Transbay Block 9, Warriors Arena, Lumina, NEMA are all looking pretty good to tell. So early in the process, but the early conceptuals for the Van Ness/Market (next to All Star Donuts) and the Renzo Piano towers look promising. Market Street has some good infill and some bad (I think the general consensus is that Linea and Octavia Gateway are pretty great). Even 399 Fremont/2RH/350 Fremont are pretty solid, to me anyway.
Can we stop expecting miracles for 12 story infill boxes? We don't need a 13 story building on Franklin to blow minds. We just need it to be built to up our density and alleviate demand.
The big stuff that will actually have a visible influence on our skyline is mostly looking good to great, in my opinion.
Posted by: JWS at October 17, 2013 10:18 AM
"Can we stop expecting miracles for 12 story infill boxes? We don't need a 13 story building on Franklin to blow minds. We just need it to be built to up our density and alleviate demand.
The big stuff that will actually have a visible influence on our skyline is mostly looking good to great, in my opinion." -JWS
Couldn't agree more. And all you anti-development types really need to get a grip on reality. By far the main contributor to SF's insane housing prices are NIMBYs and misguided preservationists who have for decades been severely restricting SF's ability to add badly needed housing units.
Posted by: cfb at October 17, 2013 11:20 AM
The constant rant about "cheap ugly boxes" goes nowhere.
Yes, there were plenty of those built in the 70's and beyond. But not every thing was. And I don't think developers/architects should be out to please every armchair critic or Planning dept. frustrated designer. Like the above comments, not every 4-7 story building need be world class capable of winning the Pritzker Prize.
Plenty of the new projects on upper Market and even Mission Bay are good, solid, contemporary designs.
But yes, Preservation needs more clear controls, and less over reaching dominance on every building here in SF.
Posted by: Futurist at October 17, 2013 11:35 AM
Agree that we need more development. But why does so much of the new development have to be so ugly and boring? And I don't think that the skyline is all that matters. SF is great because of its neighborhoods.
Surely, there are financial realities of development. But there were financial realities in the past as well when nicer buildings were built. All that detailing in the past was done by hand. Now we have 3D printers and CNC tools. In an era of cheap and powerful CAD software all we get is knocking out walls to create an open floor plan.
There's plenty of tech money out there to pay top dollar for units and a 12 story building is well past the domain of part time flipper amateur hour.
I'd expect little from a depression era apartment building in Muncie, IN, but this is SF in 2013!
Posted by: Twilly at October 17, 2013 11:46 AM
I applaud the recommendations of this report. My interactions with planning involving the preservation analysis of a couple of projects has been very frustrating due to the ambiguity of the guidelines and my perception that a tremendous amount of the work done by preservation planners is subjective. Planner A could greenlight a change in project X while Planner B might nix the same proposal.
That said, I know it will be difficult to implement these recommendations in a way that seems fair to all involved. The city needs to grow and evolve while mantaining some truly great buildings. It will be tough to come up with fair 'hard and fast' rules.
Posted by: soccermom at October 17, 2013 12:10 PM