The San Francisco sky-line is changing at a faster pace than any other time since the 1906 earthquake. Considering that there are now 40, yes 40, new buildings under construction, you will appreciate locals holding a tight grasp on their neighborhoods. NIMBY is an acronym for “Not In My Back Yard,” and people who have lived in San Francisco for more than a few years or have considered an expansion to their homes are familiar with the term. As more wealth flows into San Francisco, long-term residents are more concerned than ever that the quality of life in their neighborhoods will be changed forever and possibly not for the better.
Between the new construction and the new money flooding the city, there are many stories in the news about the conflicts in the neighborhoods between the long-term residents and newcomers wanting to make major renovations, expansions, or demolish the existing homes they own.
This is not to say that all people who have struck it rich and want to build in some of the more choice spots in San Francisco are selfish, but it is important for newbies to take NIMBY concerns seriously if they wish to live happily ever after in their new or dramatically remodeled home.
One may ask what is the secret to success. As in most things worth having, a personal commitment is important, as is a large dose of patience. Before buying on a block with the intention of demolishing a home or undertaking a major remodel, meet the neighbors, not just the immediate neighbors, but everyone living on the block.
Many years ago when I was president of the Buena Vista Neighborhood Association, people who wanted to make major changes to their homes attended the meetings and asked for the group’s approval before starting their projects. Speak to the president of the association and ask to be placed on the agenda at the next meeting to explain your plans and ask for the group’s approval. Be ready to compromise in advance and your chances for success are greater. In most neighborhoods there are a few long-term residents who will be able to offer a wealth of information that will save you time and money if you decide to go ahead with your project. Chances are you will find them at a neighborhood association or block group meeting.
How do you find neighborhood association contact information? The Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods website has a list and contact information for more than 40 different neighborhood groups in San Francisco (www.csfn.net). The coalition “grew out of concerned neighborhood organizations whose proposals to the Planning Department for amendments to the height and bulk limits were rejected.” Their monthly meeting is also a good place to collect information. The meeting takes place the third Tuesday of each month except December at 7 p.m., in Northern Police Station, Turk & Fillmore Streets (parking in rear off Turk). To take public transit, use Muni #22 Fillmore, #31 Balboa, & #38 Geary lines.
Once you have completed your preliminary investigation and before buying a home with plans to demolish or for a major renovation, it is of utmost importance to hire an architect who has successfully completed projects in San Francisco and has a working knowledge of the Planning Department. Have the architect look at your prospective project and discuss the pros and cons. A point that buyers never quite understand is the length of time involved to complete a major remodel or the construction of a new home in San Francisco. This is not measured in months, but years. The less intrusive a project, the greater chance of it being completed without delays.
Not ready for an architect? City planners are available for questions. I have always found them to be extremely patient and willing to spend as much time as necessary to answer my questions. The Department of City Planning is located at 1660 Mission Street, first floor. Weekday hours (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday) 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. and on Wednesday 10:15 a.m.–5 p.m. There is a parking garage in the building. Enter at the back of the building on Otis Street. If you aren’t able to go in person, give them a call at 415-558-6378. Be sure to have the address as well as the lot and block number. If you are not sure what the lot and block is, ask your real estate agent. Many people today prefer to do their own research on the web and the Planning Department’s website has an abundance of information (www.sf-planning.org) However, don’t be surprised if it feels a bit overwhelming. This is why home owners, contractors and architects hire permit consultants to walk their permits through the Planning Department.
Given the number of new people moving to San Francisco, there will be even greater pressure on single family homes and small condo buildings. You can count on the NIMBY vs. newbie drama to be played out in just about every neighborhood of the City as the population grows and the demand for new or better housing increases.
The moral to this story is if you do your research in advance, you will save time, money, avoid disappointment, and have a greater chance for success.
Real estate is never boring — Happy house hunting!