San Francisco takes steps to change zoning

San Francisco leaders are working to change the city's zoning code.

The change would allow housing and businesses to open in places they have not traditionally been.

The idea is to transform closed storefronts, businesses and offices into spaces the community needs.

Vacant business spaces and half empty offices aren't hard to find in San Francisco. Now, San Francisco's Planning Commission has taken the first step in approving new guidelines, aimed at adding flexibility on how existing building spaces are used.

The commission recently approved a plan authored by Supervisor Aaron Peskin and San Francisco Mayor London Breed. The new guidelines would make it easier to convert existing office space for residential use and loosen restrictions on retail use.

The mayor said the city needs less red tape and more adaptability to fill empty buildings.

"I think that has been a real problem in getting the downtown to be more than just the 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Financial District, but a place that people want to go on the weekends or evenings, or a place where people live," said Breed.

The mayor said eliminating the red tape and allowing the city to re-imagine where people live and work is critical to her roadmap to downtown San Francisco's future.

"We want to make sure that there are diverse uses of the various spaces and that it's not continuing to be a ghost town after 5 p.m. and then on weekends," said Breed.

San Francisco's Union Square is not immune from underutilized businesses, and sits adjacent to the mid-Market District, which will soon see Nordstrom, Nordstrom Rack and Saks Off 5th close its doors.

The Union Square Alliance said changing the city's zoning guidelines will encourage people to move into the area, building a customer base for local businesses. At the same time the hope is the new guidelines will loosen restrictions allowing new businesses to experiment and grow.

"If you want one floor of retail, amazing, if you want two, awesome, three? Great. But if you just want one that's OK too," said Marisa Rodriguez from the Union Square Alliance. "We want to really make Union Square something for everyone."

The new zoning regulations are will go to the city's Department of Building Inspection Commission in two weeks. If approved there, it will head to the Board of Supervisors for final approval.