SAN FRANCISCO — This city means business. Real estate developers can either shape up new buildings to the Planning Commission's liking or forget it. That was evident last week when the real estate community saw how the still-controversial Downtown Plan will influence the city's future skyline.
Three applications, which would have added about 800,000 square feet of office space, were knocked off the high-rise permit list. Earlier last month, the commissioners had voted to disapprove these same three projects because most felt the designs were not architecturally pleasing enough.
Other commissioners were opposed because of the city's already high office vacancy rate of about 17%. The commission rejected one application outright, and the other two, turned down previously, were withdrawn by developers.
The rejected project can be appealed to the Board of Permit Appeals or wait one year before reapplying to the commission. The withdrawn ones can be started over again by resubmitting applications.
San Francisco's building selection process is the result of the Downtown Plan limitation of new high-rise construction to 2.85 million square feet for the next three years. Some of this total already has been approved--leaving about 1.6 million square feet for future high-rise projects vying against each other. There is not enough room for all contestants to squeeze under the Downtown Plan limitation.
Local developers, builders and architects are finding the commission's first refusals disturbing.
"Many of us have expended several hundred thousands of dollars," one company official said, "to make these presentations. And while it's true we can re-present these applications at the next commission hearing, the outlay seems heavy in terms of what we can expect."
Dean Macris, city planning director, said his department is trying to devise new ways to cut down preliminary presentation costs--perhaps by calling for smaller and less elaborate scale models and less paper work.
The city's space rationing plan for office buildings will have a decided effect on limiting downtown growth, analysts point out. But continued pressure on both sides of the question--to build or not to build--could eventually create further controversy about the Downtown Plan; perhaps enough for an attempt to amend the existing legislation.
Lined up against the no-growth idea are those who say high office vacancies make rate negotiations easier for new tenants, and therefore more office space would not necessarily be detrimental. Others, like the organization, San Franciscans for Reasonable Growth, support the Planning Commission's policy because of the overbuilt high-rise situation.
According to the original plan, the city's Planning Commission will continue to hold high-rise application hearings at six-month intervals.