Central SOMA plan will change the landscape of San Francisco’s most sought-after area
In 2011, the San Francisco Planning Department began the process to develop an integrated community in the southern portion of the Central Subway rail corridor, surrounding 4th Street between Townsend and Market Street. The Central SOMA Plan proposes a comprehensive strategy to achieve this vision, addressing land use, building size and heights, transportation, sidewalks, open space and preservation of historic buildings. The draft plan was released in August of 2016 for public review, and will likely be adopted in 2017.
Zoning and land use changes will increase the amount of potential development for residential, commercial and office development. This will make a large portion of the area mixed-use office, allowing for new office development and easy use-conversions to office, which will create much-needed supply in this tight submarket.
The existing growth versus
estimated potential growth is outlined below:
SOMA is a technology hub for both startups and more established firms. Yelp, Reddit, and Zipcar are among those located within the Central SOMA Plan area. As these companies expand, there is little room left to accommodate growth, forcing them to look elsewhere.
This lack of availability is partly responsible for the rising rents, which deter some startups from locating in the coveted SOMA submarket. The Plan’s rezoning could offer a partial solution in the coming years.
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 create a major transit spine that improves connections to SOMA from Downtown, Mission Bay and beyond.
The Plan aims to build on this transformation, and redesign Central SOMA to better meet the needs of residents, businesses and visitors. The Bay Area is 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.
Central SOMA is currently a mix of retail, residential, office and production, and distribution and repair (PDR) buildings. The aim is to preserve diversity and PDR space, increase density and office development, improve pedestrian and bike safety by redesigning streets, and create a model for sustainable growth.
The Central SOMA Plan will enable up to 4,200 additional housing units, with priority given to 100-percent affordable housing projects.
There are already two entitled projects in the area, which will add 329 condominiums within the next two years. Four other projects in various planning stages would add 1,376 condominiums and at least 165 affordable units.
Although increasing housing supply remains an urgent concern for the city, the Plan prioritizes space for jobs over housing.
The Central SOMA Plan aims to transform the current roadways into complete streets—streets designed to equally accommodate all types of users (pedestrians, bikers, transit riders and drivers).
Central SOMA is a historically industrial area, and the roads were originally designed to accommodate large trucks and carriers. The Plan will improve the streetscape to reflect current needs and create safe access for everyone. Improvements will include protected bike lanes, new crosswalks, wider sidewalks, transit-only lanes, and two-way traffic conversions.
Reduced traffic lanes and on-street car parking will discourage car use and make room for transit, biking, parks, and pedestrian-friendly public spaces. The density and walkability will make the area attractive to employers, professionals and residents who prefer amenity-rich neighborhoods and workplaces.
First-floor retail is promoted and sometimes mandated within the Plan area. The rezoning loosens current restrictions and creates ample space for retail throughout the area.
However, the Plan does prohibit big box retailers in favor of more neighborhood-style, local retail. Commercial uses that encourage more “spill over” 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 and bar patrons into the night.
The relaxed zoning policies will encourage higher density near the transit hubs creating more of office, residential and commercial space. The increased density with a variety of transportation options and new retail and commercial amenities will make it easier for employers to recruit top talent.
There are several large Central SOMA office developments that cannot move forward until the plan is approved and adopted (expected 2017). The timeline leaves a high level of uncertainty as San Francisco has less than 523,000 square feet of Prop M allocation left. Four developments delivered and stabilized within the Central SOMA Area in the last three quarters all of which were 100 percent pre-leased, providing no relief in the already tight market.
Although the area is ripe for development, Prop M increases the level of risk for developers without Prop M allocation, 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.
There is currently 4.26 million square feet of Central SOMA office development in the Prop M queue. However, only 522,000 square feet is left for allotment. An additional 875,000 square feet will be added to the pool by the end of October.