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San Francisco’s Building Policies Can Create Nightmarish Obstacles

You may leave your heart in San Francisco, as the song goes, but you also may lose your mind there, too, trying to get approvals for construction projects, both large and small.

San Francisco’s stringent policies on construction projects, especially those governed by the discretionary review process, have long been a source of contention, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

While proponents argue that it allows neighbors to have a say in their community’s development, critics assert that the system is easily abused and contributes to the city’s reputation as one of the most difficult places in the world to build.

Hiten Madhani’s six-year battle to remodel his Bernal Heights home which has cost him $70,000 and still lacks the necessary permits is a prime example of the struggle.

Despite meeting the city’s requirements, Madhani’s project faced multiple obstacles due to the DR process, which was initiated by a single neighbor’s objections.

The DR process involves notifying neighbors within 150 feet of the proposed construction, giving them the opportunity to voice any concerns or objections.

Madhani’s neighbor, Julie Kelner, raised several design-related issues, including potential violations of neighborhood guidelines and negative impacts on her property.

Despite the architect’s efforts to address Kelner’s concerns, the case became entangled in bureaucratic intricacies and neighborhood review board disputes. The lengthy DR process, which lasted 16 weeks, surpassed the maximum timeframe outlined by the Planning Commission guidelines, adding to the overall delays and costs for Madhani.

The ordeal, compounded by the subsequent slowdowns due to the FBI’s investigation into the city’s building department and the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, ultimately led Madhani to abandon his remodeling plans, leaving his permits in limbo.

According to the Chronicle, city residents have filed close to 1,300 DR applications since 2006, with just a small fraction of those leading to a permit being rejected. But, detractors say, the process still adds unnecessary costs and time to an already difficult process.

While the Planning Department claims to have implemented reforms to streamline the DR process and is adapting to new statewide laws such as SB423, aimed at eliminating discretionary review for many multifamily housing projects — some say the experiences of residents like Madhani underscore need for further improvements in the system.

Source: The Real Deal