Central SOMA's landscape poised for change
In 2011, the Planning Department began the process to develop an integrated community vision for the southern portion of the Central Subway rail corridor, located generally in the vicinity of 4th Street between Townsend and Market Streets. The Central SOMA Plan proposes a comprehensive strategy addressing land use, building size and heights, transportation, sidewalks and open space, and preservation of historic buildings. The plan is currently under review and expected to be adopted in early 2018.
Zoning and land use changes will increase the amount of potential development for residential, commercial and office development.
The existing growth versus
estimated potential growth is outlined below:
SOMA is a technology hub for both startups and more established firms. Dropbox, Splunk, OKTA and Collective Health among others are located within the Central SOMA Plan area.
As these companies expand, little room is left to accommodate their growth, forcing them to look elsewhere. The lack of availability is partly responsible for rising rents, which has detered some startups from locating in the coveted SOMA submarket. However, rezoning will make a large portion of the area mixed-use office, allowing for new office development and easy use conversions to office, creating more supply in this tight submarket.
With the coming Central Subway through 4th Street, the area encompassed in the Central SOMA Plan will be transformed from mostly industrial to a high density transit oriented development hub. The 1.7 mile-long-subway will transform the central portion of SOMA with a major transit spine improving connections to SOMA from Downtown, Mission Bay and beyond. The plan helps to ensure the transformation meets the needs of residents, businesses and visitors in a sustainable manner.
The Bay Area's expected to grow by 2.1 million people and add 1.1 million jobs over the next three decades, with the bulk of that growth in San Francisco. Unlike other areas in the city, Central SOMA has the potential to create more space for the coming jobs.
The area is currently a mix of retail, residential, office and production, distribution and repair (PDR). The aim is to keep its diverse uses, increase the density and potential office development, preserve PDR space, increase pedestrian and bike safety by redesigning streets, and create a model for sustainable growth.
As a result of nearly seven years of economic expansion in the city, demand for residential space has driven rents to “socially unsustainable” levels. Central SOMA aims to mitigate the supply demand imbalance by encouraging new supply.
The plan seeks to increase the capacity of residential development by initiating a two-fold strategy: 1) retaining zoning that supports capacity gains, and rezone where it does not, and 2) increasing height limits and lifting density controls.
The strategy will create the space for an additional 7,500 units, including the residential projects outlined below. Although increasing housing supply is an urgent concern for the city, the plan prioritizes space for jobs over housing. The lack of available space to accommodate job growth could make San Francisco less competitive regionally and encourage companies to expand or locate outside the city.
Complete streets are streets made for everyone — pedestrians, bikers, transit riders and drivers.
The area was historically industrial with roads made to funnel large trucks and carriers. The plan will improve the streetscape to reflect the changes in the area and create safe access for all users. Improvements will include protected bike lanes, new crosswalks, wider sidewalks, transit-only lanes, and two-way traffic conversions.
The transit-rich area will discourage car use by reducing traffic lanes and on-street car parking to make room for transit, biking, parks, and pedestrian-friendly public spaces. The density and walkability will make the area attractive to employers, residents and workers who prefer amenity-rich neighborhoods and workplaces.
First floor retail is promoted and sometimes mandated within the plan area. The rezoning loosens restrictive zoning, creating ample space for retail throughout the area. However, the plan prohibits big-box retailers in favor of more neighborhood-style, local retail.
Commercial uses that encourage more spillover into the street to activate the area are highly encouraged. The diverse range of uses will help create a 24-hour activity cycle to keep the area attractive for workers, shoppers, and tourists during the day and restaurant patrons at night.
The higher density in this new transit hub aims to create more connectivity between people and jobs. Several large Central SOMA office developments are waiting for the plan to be approved and adopted before moving forward. Projects in the pipeline cannot receive their Prop M allocation until the plan is adopted, which will not happen until early 2018.
Although the area is ripe for development, Prop M increases the level of risk for developers without Prop M allocations and may discourage potential new development. The Central SOMA Plan has the potential to truly transform the area, but Prop M restrictions may be the biggest hindrance to its success. The Planning Commission has not demonstrated how each project will compete for allocation.
There is currently 4.42 million square feet of Central SOMA developments in the Prop M queue. A full breakdown is outlined in our full Plan Review.